There couldn't have been a better time than last night for Patrick Corbin to show up at Nationals Park.
Of course, it was the third start of the year for the Washington Nationals’ left-hander, but the real Patrick Corbin — the one who kept opposing bats flailing through most of the 2019 postseason — hadn’t made an appearance until last night.
“He was awesome,” manager Davey Martinez said after Corbin’s longest and strongest performance of the season.
“I mean, he pitched inside, his slider got better and better as the game went on.”
Corbin was strong early in his previous starts, but quickly lost stamina and command.
He lasted just 4 2⁄3 innings and 80 pitches in his fist outing of the year at Dodger Stadium.
His second start last week against Arizona was even worse, just two innings and 63 pitches.
Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals? Six scoreless innings and 76 pitches.
“Just kind of getting back to myself, simplifying things, using my slider.” said Corbin. “I felt I kind of got better as the game went on.”
Yes, it was a 1-0 game when Corbin left, and Tanner Rainey promptly blew the lead. But there’s no need to stretch Corbin out any farther at this point in the young season.
“You got to think about longevity with him. We already got two starters that we’re missing,” said Martinez. “If this was September, of course we’re going to send him back out, but we got him out on a positive note.”
Corbin didn’t factor into the decision in the Nationals’ 3-2 eighth-inning, come-from-behind win over St. Louis, but his pitching against Cards’ ace Adam Wainwright kept the Nationals in a game they could have been out of early if he wasn’t so sharp.
“Any other time I think I would never come out there” said Corbin. “We were in a groove all night, it felt kind of like old with Yan [Gomes] back there.”
With Stephen Strasburg on the Injured List with no timetable for his return, and Juan Soto also suffering a left shoulder strain, there really isn’t a better time for another player to pick up his game and raise expectations for everyone else.
Pitchers take time to get their arms in shape, especially after a weird season like 2020 when he had to ramp up twice for a short season.
Corbin showed in his playoff run that a left-handed slider specialist like him benefits from work. improving on his past performances was extra motivation.
“In my last outing, not able to go deeper into the game,” said Corbin. “All that’s been on my mind.”
Sometimes, breaking ball pitchers never come back from being used in relief during a playoff run. We’re fortunate that Corbin is showing signs of his past brilliance.
Corbin’s return to form and the Nationals’ resilience in winning Tuesday night made for the best possible news the Nats could have had on a night that could have gone bad very easily.
“I think this was a turning point for him,” said Martinez. “Moving forward, this is the Pat Corbin that we love and know.”