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Washington Nationals’ Patrick Corbin will try to build on positive end to 2021 campaign

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Nationals’ lefty Patrick Corbin was able to finish a frustrating season on a positive note.

Washington Nationals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Patrick Corbin finished up a frustrating 2021 campaign with back-to-back outings in which he looked more like the pitcher the Washington Nationals signed to a 6-year/$140M deal a few years back in 2018-19. Corbin struggled for a second straight season after helping the Nats win the World Series in the first year of his contract in 2019, but he felt like he got on track in his final two starts, tossing 6 23 scoreless on the road against the Cincinnati Reds, then six strong against the Colorado Rockies in Coors Field.

Corbin gave up six hits, two walks, and three earned runs, while striking out nine, and he told reporters after what ended up being his final start that he built on what worked well during his previous outing after facing the Rockies.

“We were getting ahead of some of these guys and then went to my slider [which] I thought was really good today,” Corbin explained, “and just kind of building off the last one where I was able to repeat the delivery a little bit better, be around the strike zone, and kind of throw some good fastballs inside, got some quick outs doing that, and then being able to finish them with my slider.”

Repeating his delivery, and finding his arm slot, Corbin said, made a big difference in his last two starts.

“Yeah, I think maybe getting that arm slot back, getting the shape of my pitches back to where it used to be,” the 32-year-old lefty added.

“Like I said, I felt really good all year, I think maybe last year developed some bad habits that possibly came into this year and took a while to correct, and was definitely very frustrating, so hopefully a couple of changes that I did, will just continue to try to get better with those things.”

Corbin’s manager, Davey Martinez, who has remained supportive throughout his starter’s struggles, talked after the southpaw’s final outing of 2021 about how important it was for Corbin to go into the offseason on a positive note.

“Absolutely,” Martinez said. “He feels good about himself. I think him and [pitching coach Jim] Hickey, they’ve been working hard on trying to get him consistent and finding out what’s going to keep him consistent. His last three outings were where we need to be, and if he can continue that, and build off of that going into the winter, we’re going to be in good shape next year.”

One of the six hits off of Corbin in his final outing was a home run, the 37th HR he allowed on the season, which was a career-high for home runs allowed, 11 more than he gave up in his previous eight major league seasons, the most by any National League starter, and the second-most in the majors in 2021, behind only Texas Rangers’ starter Jordan Lyles, who gave up 38.

“You saw where the balls were,” Martinez told reporters. “The balls have been up. When he gets the ball down that doesn’t happen. For me — he understands that he’s got to pitch down, keep the ball down, anything elevated [for] him gets hit hard. So, you know, we’re going to continue to talk to him and grill him about just keeping the ball down and pitching down and everything works better when he’s down.”

Martinez was asked if Corbin got away from what made him successful in the past year or two, his sinker/slider combination. He threw more four-seam fastballs than he did in either of his previous two seasons in D.C., which his manager noted.

“I believe that he tried to utilize his fastball more, which was talked about, and he has done it, but he’s done a better job of keeping it down,” Martinez said. “And when he does that, his slider plays a lot better.

“That’s what I’ve known of him before we even got him, when he was with Arizona and we faced him, we always said we got to get him to get the ball up.

“When he’s down he’s pretty effective. So, these last three outings, like I said, the mistakes he made up, got hit, when he kept the ball down, he was really good.”

Corbin said the issues with his slider, (against which opposing hitters had a .211 AVG in 2021, which, while respectable, was up from .198 in 2020’s 60-game season, .158 in 2019, and .145 in 2018), were tied to his struggles with his mechanics overall.

“I think just the consistency of it,” he said of the slider.

“I mean — any time you’re not repeating your delivery it can change a lot with location, and I mean for me, pounding my fastball in to righties, using my slider off of that, and I think maybe with a higher arm angle not being able to locate the fastball down in the zone, when I do throw a slider down there it’s a little bit easier for them to take.

“I think as a whole, just look back at these last two and try to be able to repeat that, but I do feel good. I was just looking at some swings that some good hitters had gotten off of me.

“It’s stuff that I have had in the past, so just pleased with how the last two outings went, and excited about that.”

Corbin’s teammate, Ryan Zimmerman, said he too liked what he saw from Corbin at the end of the season, while acknowledging that the lefty, “obviously hasn’t had a good year.”

“The last few starts, 4-5-6 starts, whatever, he’s obviously looked a lot sharper, so for him to finish strong and go into the offseason on a positive note, it’s been fun to watch him kind of grind it out these last few starts,” Zimmerman said.

Diagnosing his own issues overall, Corbin said, everything was tied to his arm slot and his release point.

“I know all year we were kind of looking at the release point was a lot higher, so wasn’t really sure why,” he said. “I just tried diving into it a little bit, but maybe that just played off some on the shape of my pitches, and kind of suffered from location because of that. I feel good about those last two where I was able to throw it, I just kind of felt back to normal a little bit. Being able to use that slider, and command my fastball to both sides of the plate, and just something small that I kind of thought about and hopefully continue to think about that and use it for games to come.”