Monday, May 20, 2024

Corbin gives Nats length, but bats give lefty no support (updated)

Patrick Corbin pitched deeper into a game tonight than anyone else in the Nationals rotation had through the season’s first week. He did so against the best lineup the Nats have faced to date in 2024. This should have been, by all accounts, a good night for the home team.

It mattered not how Corbin pitched in this one, though. Not when his teammates did nothing of consequence at the plate against Aaron Nola or the Phillies bullpen, which mowed down the Nationals lineup during a 4-0 victory that felt way too comfortable for the visitors (aside from the bitter cold and wind on a 48-degree Friday evening).

The three runs Corbin surrendered in the top of the second were all the Phillies needed, even though they added another when manager Davey Martinez allowed his starter to return for the top of the seventh and watched him give up another run in short order before finally turning to his bullpen.

Thus did Corbin fail to get credit for a quality start, an achievement nobody in this rotation has earned yet. Nationals starters own a collective 7.60 ERA through seven games, a number eclipsed only by the Rockies at this early juncture of the season.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Nats are 2-5.

“We’ve got to try to limit those big innings early,” Martinez said. “It definitely wears on you. You’re always trying to come back, do different things. Guys start pressing a little bit.”

One week into the season, Martinez’s team has found itself swimming upstream way more than not. That’s partly a function of a lineup that has taken too long to get going most nights. But it’s also a function of a rotation that keeps putting the team in an early hole.

Five times in seven games to date, Nats starters have surrendered at least two runs through the first two innings. And Corbin contributed to the trend tonight with a ragged top of the second.

Back-to-back walks of Bryson Stott and Nick Castellanos put the left-hander in a bind, facing a bases-loaded, no-out jam. Brandon Marsh’s sacrifice fly plated the first run, but Corbin was poised to escape without any more damage until Kyle Schwarber hit a 1-2 slider to right for a killer, two-run single.

“A little frustrating there to give up those runs,” he said. “I was trying to get Schwarber out there; he hit the ground ball through the hole on the right side. That could’ve saved us a couple runs.”

So it was the Nationals once again trailed early, this time by the count of 3-0. And their lineup didn’t do much to give itself a chance to make up the ground.

Through five innings against Nola, the Nats managed all of two hits and three walks. Only two runners reached scoring position, and both were stranded, with Luis García Jr. held up at third on CJ Abrams’ one-out single in the third (and Abrams then getting thrown out trying to advance to second in the process).

The rate of success was no better once the Philadelphia bullpen took over. By night’s end, the lineup had totaled two hits and five walks.

“We’ve got to come out and score first,” Martinez said. “We’ve got to score early and put pressure on the other team.”

Corbin got no run support, but he did everything he could to keep the deficit where it was. He got into another jam in the third but got out of it thanks to an effective (if not exactly efficient) pickoff play that resulted in Bryce Harper (who was on third at the time) getting tagged out 1-3-4-1-5-2-3.

And by the time he walked off the mound at the end of the sixth, Corbin had done something no other member of the Nationals rotation has done in 2024: Earn a quality start.

Just one problem: That wasn’t the end of his night. Martinez decided to press his luck and send his starter back to the mound for the top of the seventh, hoping he could handle one of the toughest 1-2-3 punches in baseball for the fourth time in the game. Three batters later, the deficit was 4-0 and Corbin was getting pulled anyway, no longer credited with a quality start.

“Our bullpen’s been out there quite a bit,” Martinez said. “We’re just trying to see if … you know, he only had 84 pitches. Tried to stretch him out a little bit, and it didn’t work.”

Jordan Weems did a nice job to get out of the jam without suffering any more damage. But on a night when the Nats lineup wasn’t putting up much resistance, every added run felt more and more daunting.

“It’s tough for any team to do that,” García said. “But you’ve got to remain united, close, and battle from the first inning to the ninth inning the whole time. Today, the results weren’t there, but I felt we battled. And we hope that tomorrow, the results are different.”

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