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Washington Nationals want Patrick Corbin to increase changeup usage in 2021...

Patrick Corbin’s manager, pitching coach, and catcher have talked this spring about the left-hander working his change into the mix more often...

MLB: Washington Nationals-Workouts Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m working on a changeup” is something you hear from pitchers looking to add another pitch to their repertoire so often that we sometimes wonder if it’s not just something they’ll say to get it out there that it’s a pitch they might throw in opposing team’s scouting reports.

In Patrick Corbin’s case, however, there appears to be a concerted effort to get the lefty to throw his changeup more often after throwing it 5.7 and 5.6% of the time over the first two years of his 6-year/$140M deal with the Washington Nationals.

Opposing hitters had a .370 AVG on Corbin’s changeup in 2019, and a .240 AVG in 2020’s truncated 60-game campaign, but new catcher Alex Avila (who caught the lefty when the two of them were in Arizona in 2018), said after working with the southpaw early this spring it’s a pitch he’d like to see the pitcher throw more often.

“Each one of his bullpens and then today in the live BP, he has been better and better each one,” Avila said early in camp.

“He’s been sharper and sharper, and his changeup, from what I remember, in 2018 was kind of a work in progress,” the catcher continued, “... and the ones he’s thrown to me the couple of times I’ve already caught him so far this camp, have been really good.

“That can be kind of an equalizer pitch for him against right-handers, so hopefully that continues to develop and get better and he gets more confidence with that pitch.

“It’s something that he’s always kind of worked on,” the veteran backstop added.

“The way he pitches, the angle that he creates on the mound, especially against a right-handed hitter with the fastball in and the slider off that on the inside corner for a righty and then away to a lefty, that’s kind of his angle, and so it’s kind of hard for some guys to maybe go to the other side of the plate with something offspeed. He’s good with the fastball when he’s going to the other side of the plate, but having something offspeed going the opposite direction from a righty could take some pressure off that slider a little bit, when guys are making adjustments to it, either trying to lay off it or they’re looking for it to hit it.”

“That’s where that changeup can kind of come into play as far as getting quick outs early in the game against righties and kind of saving that slider for a big strikeout later in the game, so as long as he keeps forcing himself to throw that in his bullpen sessions and also in the right situations in the game, and has some success with it, [he] will hopefully gain a little more confidence with that and hopefully be able to use that more consistently.”

New Nationals’ pitching coach Jim Hickey, who declared his belief in the changeup in his first Zoom call with reporters after getting the gig in Washington, said recently that it is a pitch that could really help Corbin, and something he should have more confidence in, at least based on what he’s seen early this spring.

“No question about that,” Hickey said.

“If I walked into camp unaware of Patrick Corbin and his repertoire and that type of thing, I would have just assumed that a changeup was a normal part of it, and it’s very, very good.

“It’s going to be a very effective pitch.

“He can use a lot more, he does such a great job of pitching inside to right-handers that basically anything that is going to move away from the right-hander is going to be effective, whether it’s a fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup or not, but I think you’ll see that his changeup usage is high if not higher probably than any time in his career this year.”

“We definitely want him to try to use it and get comfortable throwing it,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said in advance of Corbin’s initial Grapefruit League outing of the 2021 season against the Miami Marlins Saturday afternoon in Jupiter, FL’s Roger Dean Stadium.

“It is a good pitch for him. Obviously, we ran the numbers, he doesn’t throw it enough,” the skipper explained. “So hopefully once he gets comfortable he’ll start throwing it.

“For today,” Martinez added, “I know he’s going to try to work ahead of counts and work with his fastball command, but we definitely want him to understand that that’s a good pitch for him and he needs to start throwing it more.”

“As we all know, he’s got an unbelievable slider, and he throws it in a lot, if he can get something else that breaks away from a right-handed hitter, I think it will be effective.”

According to reports from Jupiter on Saturday, Corbin worked it into the mix while he was working with catcher Yan Gomes, getting a swinging strike from right-hand bat Starling Marté with a 1-1 changeup, before he got a called strike three with a sinker. He got up 0-2 on Marlins’ third baseman Brian Anderson as well before getting the right-handed hitting infielder swinging with a 1-2 changeup outside for out No. 3 and his second K of the day.

He didn’t throw any changeups in his second (and final) inning of work, but retired the side in order to end his outing after 33 pitches.

“I feel great right now,” Corbin said after his 2021 Grapefruit League debut was over.

“Threw I think it was 33 pitches, so was able to throw everything,” he added. “First time throwing two innings, first outing, just happy with it, feel good, and the main thing is just to continue to build up those innings, build up the pitch count to get ready for the season.”

As for the changeups he mixed in?

“Yeah, I threw a couple changeups today, I got a strikeout on one,” Corbin told reporters.

“Trying to work on a couple other things as well. Slider felt pretty good, trying to throw another cutter/harder slider-type pitch as well. So just working on things. I felt good with location. Was able to throw some fastballs in and away. So I feel pleased where it’s all at, and I guess the big thing is see how you feel tomorrow, bounce back, and get ready for another one.”

The two-strike slider to Anderson, down and away, he said, was the ideal situation to use that pitch.

“That’s the natural movement of that pitch, so definitely — everyone knows that I’m throwing a slider,” Corbin said, “so to have something else available to maybe keep them off that pitch, or maybe something to show them less, is kind of what we’re thinking there. It will be something that I continue to work with and hopefully it’s a pitch that I do throw a lot more this season.”

His manager was happy to see him work a few changeups into his outing.

“I liked it. Like I said, the biggest thing with Patrick is strike one and getting ahead of hitters,” Martinez said.

“He talked about it today a little bit with me in the dugout. If he gets ahead of hitters he can do a lot of different things.”

The changeup to Anderson, in particular, Martinez said, is the ideal situation and result.

“Absolutely. I like I said, it’s a good pitch to feed off his slider that’s down and in, if he can get that changeup to go the other way, and throw it down like he did, it’s going to be an effective pitch.”