Unbeaten in four outings in May going into Sunday’s start, (2-0, with the Nationals 3-1 in his outings), Patrick Corbin recovered well from a rough start to his third season in Washington, D.C, putting up a 3.24 ERA and a .239/.284/.409 line against in 25 innings this month after a four-start stretch in April in which he had a 10.47 ERA and a .329/.427/.643 line against in 16 1⁄3 IP.
Corbin, 31, gave up eight hits and three runs in five innings of work on the mound in Wrigley Field last time out on the mound before he faced the Baltimore Orioles in the series finale in the nation’s capital, throwing 87 pitches before the Nationals hit for him.
Heading into Sunday’s game, manager Davey Martinez announced that for the first time, since he joined the club in ‘19, Corbin would have someone other than Yan Gomes as his catcher.
“[Alex] Avila is going to catch Corbin today, which is the first time somebody else [will] catch Corbin besides Gomes, but Avila’s caught him all of ‘18, so he’s very familiar with him.”
Avila guided Corbin to a 3.34 ERA in 14 starts and 86 1⁄3 IP in 2018 in Arizona, in Corbin’s final year with the D-backs before signing his 6-year/$140M free agent deal with the Nats.
Why switch things up?
“Just long game yesterday,” Martinez explained, and Saturday’s game did go on for 3 hours and 41 minutes.
“I wanted to play Gomes against the left-handed pitcher yesterday, but the game — he was back there a long time, so I want Avila to play today.”
The manager didn’t think it would mean any significant adjustments for Corbin.
“No, and he’s caught Corbin in Spring Training as well. So, I mean, these guys are familiar with each other, he knows what Corbin has to do.
“If you look back, he did a really great job with Corbin in ‘18. So it’s going to be interesting to watch them work together again.”
Corbin got off to a rough start with Avila behind the plate against the Orioles, giving up four straight singles and two runs before he recorded an out, and the O’s added a third on a two-out RBI double in what ended up being a 30-pitch first.
He gave up a fourth run in the third, but that was it in 5 2⁄3 IP, and he left the mound with a runner on and the Nationals up 6-4, with Wander Suero getting the third out of the inning with one pitch. It ended up a 6-5 win.
Patrick Corbin’s Line: 5.2 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 Ks, 95 P, 62 S, 7/2 GO/FO.
What did Martinez think of the work Corbin and Avila did in their reunion?
“They were good, they were really good,” Martinez said after the Nationals completed a three-game sweep of their regional rivals.
“The first inning a lot of ground balls, which we kind of like, but they were finding the holes, but I thought they worked really good together.
“Alex had no issues blocking balls, got some balls down, but I thought they worked well together.”
“To be honest with you he hasn’t changed much since I caught him in Arizona,” Avila said.
“That’s what made him really good, that’s what got him here in free agency. It’s that fastball, slider combination.
“I got to throw to him a couple of years ago,” Corbin said after earning his third win, (W, 3-3), “... but I think the biggest part of a catcher back there is calling a game and I think he understands it just as well as anybody.
“We’re lucky to have those two guys here who have gone through it. And some with [Kurt] Suzuki that we had the last couple years before.
“I think just having those veteran guys behind the plate can kind of just step in and really nothing is really changed.”
Avila said the early hits were at least in part a result of the fact that the O’s young roster is relatively unknown.
“The Orioles are a tough team when it comes to putting a game plan together, because you’re dealing with some younger guys who don’t have as much track record,” he said.
“So typically what you think would work in certain situations or how to set up hitters may not be the case, and I think that’s just kind of what we fell into today.
“They came out swinging and it really didn’t matter what pitch it was, in what location, they were putting the bat on the ball, and that’s going to happen at times.
“And like we had talked about after the first inning it’s just about outlasting the other guy and keeping us in the game.”
“He settled down, he pitched great, he really did,” Martinez said of Corbin’s work after the first.
“He kept us in the ballgame. That’s something I talked about yesterday, Jon Lester had a rough first [inning], but these are veteran guys who understand the game, and it’s about keeping us in the game the whole way. Give our offense a chance to swing the bats and come back and he did that tonight.”
Corbin said he didn’t change much after the first, but things started going his way instead of the O’s.
“I just continued to attack the zone,” the southpaw said. “Today was just kind of a strange game with kind of just how it went. They kind of jumped on me early, got some hits, found some holes, but honestly didn’t really change anything. I felt pretty good throughout, just frustrating to give up the three runs there, but I thought we made some pitches.”
Corbin held the Orioles down as well as he could and the Nationals’ offense picked him up.
“It’s great to see our offense after that first put up four runs there, get the lead back, and just trying to pitch as deep as I can in the game there,” he said.
“Obviously frustrating just the way that it went, but like I said, I felt good, I thought my stuff was good.
“These guys are an aggressive team and they definitely — the last couple days, definitely proved it again, but you just try to continue making your pitches and hopefully they start hitting them at some guys, and just try to get ahead, get some weak contact, things like that.”