There were some positives for Patrick Corbin to build on coming out of his seven-inning, 114-pitch outing against the New York Mets last week in the nation’s capital, with the left-hander generating 15 ground balls and 11 groundouts, while giving up three earned runs overall, on 11 hits and one walk.
“Yeah, I thought I pitched pretty well,” Corbin told reporters in his post game Zoom call after that start.
“Getting through that seventh inning I thought was huge, I thought early on I made some pitches, they got some hits that fell in that necessarily weren’t hit that hard, but I felt like I was able to pitch out of a couple jams, which was good, and overall felt great, and to get around  pitches today, feeling strong to that point, I was pleased with it.”
The 15 ground balls were the most the 32-year-old southpaw had generated in a start this season, so what if anything was he able to do to keep the ball on the ground (for the most part; he did give up his NL-leading 34th HR in that start) and generate weaker contact that time?
“Just trying to simplify things, locate my fastball, throw offspeed, quality pitches maybe early, try to get some strikes there,” Corbin said.
“I thought maybe some heaters insider I was up in the zone a little bit but located them in enough, so maybe just a couple more heaters there, but overall I felt we did a good job in keeping them off-balance, throwing sliders in the zone, letting them expand.”
The “we” in that sentence was Corbin and veteran catcher Alex Avila, who was behind the plate and working with the starter for the first time since he returned from an extended IL stint.
“Pretty much all day we were in sync,” Corbin said.
“I might have shook him once, but like I said, he’s a veteran catcher back there, he does his homework, and there’s a reason that he’s throwing down those pitches, and you trust a guy like that.”
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez paired the two of them up again in Corbin’s 28th start of the season on Sunday afternoon in the series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park, and he talked beforehand about what his starter did right last time out and what he’d seen that the lefty could build on down the stretch, and he said the ground ball outs against the Mets were definitely a positive sign.
“For me, ground balls are great, that’s who he is,” Martinez said, noting that the strikeouts (7.18 K/9) aren’t really there for Corbin this season, with his K/9 the lowest in his career to this point, down from his career average (8.68) and down for a third consecutive year (from 11.07 in 2018, 10.60 in 2019, and 8.22 K/9 in 2020’s 60-game campaign).
“The strikeouts will come,” the manager continued, “... but I want him to go out there and compete again like he did last time. Give us seven strong innings again. I thought he pitched a lot better last time, you know, and he gave us 114 pitches ... for me now, it’s just about him attacking the strike zone, getting early outs, and going deep in the game again, but I thought he threw the ball a lot better.”
This time out, Corbin stranded a single and a walk in a 16-pitch first, and he took the mound with a 1-0 lead in the second, but the Bucs answered back with back-to-back hits by Wilmer Difo and Anthony Alford, a groundout that moved both up, and well-executed squeeze bunt by starter Bryse Wilson that brought in the tying run, 1-1.
Kevin Newman hit a middle-middle, 1-1 fastball to left for a leadoff triple in the home-half of the third, and a sac fly to center by Bryan Reynolds brought in run No. 2 for the Pirates, 2-1, but after a walk to Colin Moran with one out in the third, Corbin got an inning-ending 6-4-3 out of Jacob Stallings, then proceeded to retire the final 12 batters he faced in what ended up another seven-inning, 100+ pitch outing.
Corbin got 10 groundouts from the 26 batters he faced, and for just the second time in his last 15 starts, he avoided giving up a home run.
Patrick Corbin’s Line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks, 101 P, 64 S, 10/5 GO/FO.
“He threw the ball well, a couple bloop hits,” Martinez said after the Nats’ sweep-avoiding 6-2 win. “Gave up a couple runs, but then he settled down, and he threw the ball down, mixed in all pitches, and threw the ball well.
“Like I said, when he attacks the strike zone, he’s tough, and he worked ahead.”
What’s the trend in the last two starts that has Corbin enjoying more success?
“I like when he throws the ball down, and he uses both sides of the plate. That’s the key to me is that he utilized the outside part of the plate very well today, and he pitched in when he had to,” the manager added.
Corbin said afterwards that he hasn’t really changed too much up, “No, not really, just the results have been better. But like I’ve been saying, I’ve been feeling pretty good as of late, and just comes down to command, getting ahead of guys, and I thought that was the big key today.”
Corbin also worked well with Avila again, which is no judgement on the younger catchers on the Nationals’ roster, though their familiarity does seem to be paying dividends for the left-hander, and trying to get straightened out, and on the same page with new catchers can’t be easy.
“Alex has caught him quite a bit,” Martinez said. “And he understands what he’s trying to do and they both are on the same page always. Like I said before, I wanted Alex to catch him a couple of times just to get him back on track. Who knows, I don’t know if I’m going to do it again, I might have one of these young guys to catch him, but we’ll see, but Alex, he calls a great game and he understands how to get guys out.”
“I’ve thrown to him a bunch,” Corbin said of his teammate in Arizona and D.C., who has been behind the plate with the left-hander 19 times. “He’s been in this game for a long time, so he sees probably some things a little different than some other guys here, but I know the future here, I’m going to have to throw to those guys as well, so no matter who is back there you try to come up with a game plan, but you give all the credit to Al back there, just somebody that I’m very comfortable with, kind of like Yan Gomes when he was here, just somebody that I’ve thrown to a bunch, and they kind of know what’s working, maybe what’s not working that day, and make some quick adjustments.”