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Washington Nationals’ Patrick Corbin finds something in fastball-heavy start in 4-1 win

Patrick Corbin mixed things up a bit, with positive results, now he’ll have to build on it...

Washington Nationals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Patrick Corbin extended a winless streak to six straight outings with a loss in a 4 23-inning start against the Atlanta Braves last weekend in Nationals Park, giving up seven hits, two walks, and six earned runs in a 97-pitch turn in Washington’s rotation which left him with a brutal 7.83 ERA and a .301/.347/.588 line against in 33 13 IP over that stretch.

His manager talked after the loss, which saw Corbin give up four of the six runs he allowed in his final inning of work in the fifth, struggling again the third time through the opposing team’s order, about needing to find a fix for the 32-year-old lefty, who is in the third year of his 6-year/$140M deal with the club.

“His fastball, especially his two-seamer, is electric,” Martinez explained in discussing one of his thoughts for a potential fix. “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.”

Washington Nationals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Following that outing, Corbin had a .250/.335/.422 line against in his first time through the order this season, a .269/.304/.472 line the second time, and .356/.403/.703 the third time through, so his manager said he’d have a talk with the southpaw about a different approach.

“This is something, like I said, I’ll have a conversation with him, we’ll talk about it. I honesty want to see what his thoughts are and then go from there, and then implement it hopefully the next time out, and implement it in his work in the bullpen, where he feels comfortable 0-2, 2-2, 1-2, whatever, that third time through and maybe just go through it as that in his bullpen, you know, ‘Third time through the order, you’re facing so-and-so, what are you going to do?’ And let him go out there and practice that and see what happens.”

Corbin, for his part, was at a loss to explain what was happening the third time through.

“I’m not tired,” Corbin said. “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.”

Going into last night’s outing against the Brewers in Milwaukee’s American Family Field, the Nats’ skipper was asked if he had that conversation with Corbin between starts.

“He threw the ball well,” Martinez said of the work Corbin did. “We talked a lot in-between his last start and now. So we’re going to go out there and — look, he’s been throwing the ball — I told him I said, ‘Look, you’re throwing the ball really well, you really are. Your velo has been good, your slider has been good. Now it’s just getting through that fifth or sixth inning with the same kind of mentality as you do that first inning.’

“So we’re going to keep an eye on him. We talked a lot about what we want to see. I don’t want to sit here and give away any strategies of what we’re going to do today, but I think he’s ready to go.”

Without giving too much away, Martinez talked about what he wanted to see from the lefty.

“Obviously, we all know that he’s got a really good slider,” he said, “but his fastball has been really good. His changeup has been good, I don’t think he throws it enough, but it’s good. But he’s got three good pitches, and I know he’s trying to throw a slower breaking ball, a curveball, on occasion he throws it. I don’t want him throwing it that much, because all of his other pitches are pretty good, but I want him to locate his fastball and throw his fastball a lot more, in and out in the zone, so we’ll see what happens today.”

Corbin went into the outing throwing his slider 37.8% of the time in 2021, with his sinker (30.7%) his second-most used pitch, four-seamer third (25.2), change fourth (4.8%), and curve fifth (1.1%), with an additional nine cutters (0.4%), and he went fastball heavy in his start.

Against the Brewers, the left-hander threw 45% sinkers, which averaged 94.1 MPH (up +1.9) and hit 95.7 MPH, 27% sliders (25 total, out of 91 total pitches, which he got 12 swings, and seven swinging strikes with, along with four called strikes), 26% four-seamers, and just two changeups (2%), and he tossed six scoreless on 80 pitches, before coming back out in the seventh and giving up a one-out home run before he was done after 92 pitches overall in what was arguably his best start of the season in what ended up a 4-1 win.

Patrick Corbin’s Line: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 92 P, 61 S, 7/3 GO/FO.

“He attacked the strike zone, something we talked about, he used — a lot of fastball usage. Threw the ball well,” Martinez said after the win.

“We talked about this before with him, and his fastball has been really good, it’s live, it’s moving, he can go in and out, and today you saw what he can do when he utilizes it a lot, with two strikes he was pounding the zone, he used his sliders when he needed to, and the biggest thing is that he pounded the strike zone, he had no walks today, which was awesome.”

“i’ve been saying it for a while now that I feel good,” Corbin said in his own post game Zoom call with reporters. “I feel like the ball is coming out, maybe making a couple mistakes late and when I am, paying for it, but I thought tonight we got in a good rhythm back there, and it was fun, felt good, and looking forward to continuing it, and trying to finish this season strong.”

The keys to his success in Corbin’s mind?

“Getting ahead of guys, staying out of the middle of the plate, threw some changeups in there, good sliders, but just being aggressive, throwing some good pitches down in the zone, and I mean, these guys, they’re a good team and just kind of really getting after every pitch is kind of what I really feel like I’ve been doing, but tonight just like I said, the results were there, and offense did a good job to put up a couple runs too to get us the lead, and the bullpen shut it down.”

Has his increased velocity on his fastballs helped convince him they can be more effective, and even help how his slider plays?

“I’m confident in all my pitches if I locate it,” Corbin said. “But tonight, yeah, I felt like it was coming out pretty easy, I didn’t do anything different, but I’ve kind of been around 94 for a while now, but for me, yeah, getting ahead of guys, locating my fastball, attacking them, and playing my slider off it has been my game, and I thought that was something tonight that we did really well, and that’s what’s been, like I said— I keep saying it, but it’s been frustrating because I’ve been feeling pretty good, and tonight it was great to see the results.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Corbin was up to 80 pitches after sixth, and his spot came up first in the top of the seventh, so was there any thought to ending his outing on a good note, rather than sending him out again and taking the chance that the good vibes could be ruined?

“I wanted him to go back out there, like I said, his stuff was good, his stuff was electric, he got into trouble when he got the ball up a little bit, but not horribly bad, and he gave up a home run, but I thought that was good enough. He had 91 pitches at that particular time,” Martinez said.

“There really wasn’t any talk,” Corbin said. “I’d led off that inning, and felt good, and really wouldn’t change anything, just we had that long at bat there and [Eduardo] Escobar kind of got that pitch count over 90 there, but overall just a great night, and a little upset that I didn’t finish that inning there, you never want to come out during the middle of an inning, so I guess that’s just the one thing, I wish I just finished it, but like I said, bullpen came in, did a good job.”