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On Washington Nationals’ Patrick Corbin; his slider; third time through issues...

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It happened to Patrick Corbin again last night, the third time through things go all pear-shaped...

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Winless in his last five starts going into last night’s outing, with a 7.22 ERA, eight walks, 22 Ks, nine homers allowed, and a .293/.336/.586 line against in 28 23 innings pitched over that stretch, Patrick Corbin has not been able to get back to where he was in the 2018 or the first year of his 6-year/$140M deal with Washington’s Nationals in 2019. It’s been an up-and-down couple seasons for the lefty, who helped the club win it all in ‘19, and has struggled to get right over the last two seasons in the nation’s capital.

Corbin’s teammate, Ryan Zimmerman, offered his take on what’s troubled the southpaw in the last two seasons after the starter gave up five hits, a walk, and five earned runs over six innings of work against the Braves in Atlanta last weekend.

“I think he’s thrown better the last month or so,” Zimmerman said. “I mean, I think a lot of people forget, he was, for lack of a better words, abused, in 2019 in the playoff run. He did things that he’s never done for us to win that World Series. I think people think that you just recover from that and come back the next year and everything is fine. Well, you come back the next year and they have the Spring Training and then you get shut down and then you have to start up again. I’m not making excuses for Pat, but then the beginning of this year the first 10-14 days, he was on the COVID stuff, so he basically rehabbed in the big leagues his first three starts of this year, so I think you’ve seen the last 4-5 starts he’s throwing 93-94-95, I even saw 96 last start I think, and he’s getting a lot more swing and misses on his slider, so I’m not worried about Pat. He works hard. I think he’s going to rebound, but it seems like he goes through the lineup a couple times and then sometimes the third time through they get him, but I don’t really worry about him too much.”

Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez too talked that night about Corbin’s struggles the third through the lineup after the start in Atlanta.

• For context: Corbin has a .256/.340/.436 line against the first time through the lineup this season, after that 8/8/21 start against Atlanta, a .265/.301/.465 line against the second time through, and then a .342/.387/.675 line against the third time through.

“We got to keep battling and get through it,” Martinez said of Corbin’s struggles, “and know come that sixth or seventh inning, you just got to battle through it, you have got to make pitches, get the ball down.

“By that time, it’s the third time through the order, might have to change up. May have to throw more fastballs away and not rely on the sliders as much, because as you can tell, they start swinging at the sliders, so maybe we’ll have to change something that way, but we’ll take a look at all that stuff, but we definitely need him and we’re going to need him in the future.”

Asked before Corbin’s second consecutive outing outing against the Braves last night if he bought what Zimmerman was selling, Martinez said he thought 2020’s start-stop-start-up-again build-up for the eventual 60-game COVID campaign has had more to do with what Corbin has struggled with the last two years than the workload in ‘19’s World Series run.

“I actually think — it’s not — more than the ‘19, it could be more the stop and [start] in ‘20, and then getting back in the winter time and coming to ‘21, I think he came to Spring Training wanting to do a little bit more. He wanted to throw a cutter. He wanted to throw — really hone in on his changeup. He wanted to do a lot of different things that — you forget what your identity is, and when he’s really good, as we’ve all seen lately, it is the two-seam fastball, it is the four-seam fastball, and his slider, I mean, his slider is his pitch, so he’s started throwing that a lot more, you’re starting to see a lot more swings and misses with that, so I want him to be who he is, the Patrick Corbin that we signed, the guy that goes out there and attacks early in counts, which he’s been doing, and finishing pitches with two strikes, which he’s done as of late.”

• More Context-y stuff: Opposing hitters actually have just a .189 AVG on Corbin’s slider this season, down from the .198 BAA he had on the pitch in 2020, though up from a .159 BAA in ‘19. In his first season in D.C., opposing hitters had a .280 AVG on his sinker, and a .232 AVG on his four-seam fastball, but that jumped up to .376/.340 in 2020, and before last night, it was at .300/.345 on the year in 2021.

“Today, I’m looking at him to get through that one tough inning that typically bites him a little bit, and get him through that and go from there,” Martinez continued.

“I think other than that he’s been pitching good. It’s just one inning that he has that we need to get him through, and we talk about pitching through it and slowing the game down when things start getting heated up again, just slow everything down again and get back to what you’re really good at.”

There was also a recent Fangraphs’ article on Corbin’s struggles, and his slider in particular, which, to sum up a lengthy, and in-depth piece in a few short sentences, looked at the possibility that the left-hander is generating too much extension on his slider and releasing it closer to home than he used to, which leaves less room for it to break, which is something that Martinez said they have actually looked at...

[ed. note - “Oh, boy. That summary is wanting.”]

Martinez’s take?

We definitely looked at it,” Martinez said, referring to the idea that he’s getting too much extension. “[Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey has talked to him about it, I think right now he really feels like he’s in a good place. He just— like I said, when you go back and look at some of the pitches that he’s been hit on, they’ve been up in the zone, as opposed to down, so you know, Hickey is just working on him — when you get in those high-leverage situations, just remember to keep the ball down, down in the zone, that’s where you’re really good.”

Facing the Braves for the second time in a week last night, Corbin held them to two runs in four innings, but he blew up again the third time through the order, with Atlanta putting up a four-spot in the fifth on their way to a 12-2 win.

It was 2-1 in the visitors’ favor when the trouble started.

Guillermo Heredia singled to start the top of the fifth, and scored one out later when Ozzie Albies hit a full-count changeup up in the zone out to left for a two-run blast and a 4-1 lead, and a walk to Jorge Soler, single by Freddie Freeman, and a two-out, two-run hit by Dansby Swanson later it was 6-1 Braves, and Corbin was done for the night...

Patrick Corbin’s Line: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 1 HR, 97 P, 57 S, 5/4 GO/FO.

From his perspective, what’s changing that third time through? Is it fatigue? Hitters at that point just having seen what he’s working with?

“I’m not tired,” Corbin stressed. “I’m not quite sure. I know early on I was giving up a bunch of runs in the first inning, so I’m not sure why that was happening either, I’ve kind of had the same routine my whole career, and like I said, I feel pretty good, just not having results.”

“I don’t really have an answer,” he said when asked about a familiar pattern playing out. “It seems like I make a mistake and the pitch to Albies is what I’m kind of talking about, and it leads to a couple runs, and then just couldn’t get my way out of the inning. But felt early on, felt pretty strong, the inning they got a couple runs there kind of extended my pitch count, got in a tough situation there, I had to make some quality pitches, try to get out of it, and I just didn’t do that towards the end.”

“I don’t really have an answer,” he reiterated at another point in his post game Zoom call with reporters. “I feel like the ball is coming out pretty good, I think my slider the last three games has been better, I know the results aren’t great, but I feel like I’m getting some more swings and misses on that, and that’s who I am, so, I don’t know.”

Corbin actually got 14 swinging strikes on the 30 swings he got on his slider (47%), and it has been a more effective weapon for him as he said, so will that pitch getting where he wants it again going to affect his other pitches, hitters’ reaction to them and their approach with him overall?

“I think the last three outings it’s been a lot better,” he said. “Been getting some more swings and misses, starting to feel like I can throw it in any count. I thought Albies there had a good at bat, laid off a bunch of good sliders. And we ended up throwing a changeup there, which I threw a couple earlier that were pretty good, that was the worst out of the three. And then I thought Soler’s at bat — just kind of laid off some good ones, and I know I threw a bunch the at bat before too, but I do feel good with that pitch and hopefully I can just try to get some quicker outs where they don’t see it as much as they did tonight.”

Martinez had some thoughts on what he saw in Corbin’s outing.

“Today, what I’m starting to notice is patterns for him,” Martinez said, “... once he gets the second time through the order. I started noticing they really just started sitting on his slider, and he gets ahead and he buries two in the dirt, they foul one off that could be a pretty good pitch, and they just started sitting on his slider. And he left a couple up, he fell behind 2-2, 3-2, left a couple up in the zone and he hit it. The pitch to Albies, the 3-2 changeup, as we talked, he knows that that wasn’t a very good pitch to him, but the pitch to — the other pitch to Swanson with the base hit, he said he just didn’t get it down, and he threw a couple he thought were good, he didn’t take it, but that only tells me like I said, by that time they’re actually sitting on his sliders. I think the first two times around, he threw an abundance of sliders to Soler and Albies, they swung at them and then the third time up you saw Soler not swing at any. He threw a fastball that was really close, 3-2, that was a ball, but it was close, and he froze him, so when I see that, I said they’re sitting on sliders. So he needs to start — we need to talk to him about start making adjustments that third time through.

“His fastball, especially his two-seamer, is electric. I mean, he’s throwing 94-95, I really believe that he needs to start throwing that a lot more later in the games, because it does have some action on it. He can get the ball down in the zone with it. So, if they start sitting on his sliders, and you start seeing their swings, I watch a lot of swings where they’re fouling balls off, over our dugout, that’s an indication for me that they’re just waiting to get that slider and just fouling the fastballs off. I would stick with the fastball, and that’s a conversation that I’ll have with him tomorrow, that he’s got to start utilizing his fastball a little bit more and not rely so much, heavily rely so much on his slider, especially the third time through the order.”