In the fourth year of his 6-year/$140M deal in D.C., Washington Nationals’ left-hander Patrick Corbin went (6-19) overall, with a 6.31 ERA, 4.84 FIP, 49 walks (2.89 BB/9), and 128 strikeouts (7.55 K/9) in 31 starts and 152 2⁄3 IP, over which hitters put up a .321/.374/.513 line against the veteran starter.
Corbin showed signs of life late in 2022, however, providing the Nats’ brass with reason to believe he might bounce back in ‘23 and provide the club with a reliable arm in a relatively young rotation, though the Nationals signed Trevor Williams to bring another proven starter into the mix.
Manager Davey Martinez talked early in Spring Training about what he wants to see from Corbin in camp in order for him to consider it a successful spring.
“Just, one, being healthy by the end of camp,” Martinez told reporters, “and two … it’s focusing on everything, throwing the ball down. He threw the ball down. I saw some ground balls today, and that’s where he needs to be. I’m not really concerned about him striking guys out. With him it’s a lot of weak contact when he’s really good. But the main focus is, one health, two is just working the bottom of the zone and utilizing his slider the way we know he can.
“Last year, at the end, he threw some really decent sliders towards the end, so we want him to continue to do that.”
Overall on the year in 2022, Corbin posted a .310 BAA on his sinker, which he threw 43.5% of the time, a .309 BAA on his slider (29.4%), a .346 BAA on his four-seamer (18.8%), and a .380 BAA on his changeup (8.3%).
But in Corbin’s final few outings he did show signs of improvement.
“He struggled in the beginning as we all know,” Martinez acknowledged, summing up Corbin’s 10th season in the majors late last year.
“Then all of a sudden … the last 5-6-7 starts, he started understanding what he needs to do, how he needs to pitch, and he threw the ball well, and he kept us in the games, which was awesome. That’s a testament to him continuing to work with [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey. I thought Hickey did a great job of getting him to understand that he needs another pitch. He started throwing his changeup a lot more. I thought his slider today, a few of them, were really, really good, really sharp, and he understands now that he needs to keep the ball down to be effective, and for the most part he did that over those last 5-6 starts, so I’ve got a good feeling that next spring, he comes in, he’s in shape, he gets ready, that we’ll see a different Corbin, the Corbin that we saw in ‘19.”
The southpaw is, of course, a different pitcher now than he was in his first year with the club after signing his free agent deal, and helping the Nationals win the World Series, which GM Mike Rizzo said when he spoke with reporters early this spring.
“I think that he’s a different pitcher than he was in ‘17, ‘18, ‘19,” Rizzo said.
“He struck out a lot more guys, he’s more of a pitch-to-contact guy right now with the ability to strike guys out when he needs to, but I just think that he’s got to stay within himself, he’s got to believe in his stuff still. I think he’s got to pound the strike zone, you’ve heard me say it over the last two years. He’s got to pitch in, he’s got to pitch aggressive, and he’s got to get quicker contact, and, with that, you have an infield that is reliable and can pick the ball up, I think [it] will help him, but the onus is on him to pitch better and to utilize his stuff and trust his stuff again like he did when he was in the Cy Young voting a couple of years in a row.”
As the GM added, he’s continued to be impressed by how Corbin has handled himself throughout the past three years as he’s struggled on the mound.
“Again, I give him credit, he takes the ball every game, sits at his locker to answer questions from you guys every day. He’s a true pro,” Rizzo told reporters.
“He’s giving to the young players, and that’s all on the plus side for him, but he’s got to perform better.”
Corbin posted a 30.8% K% in 2018 when he was still in Arizona (11.07 K/9), and he had a 28.5% K% in his first season with the Nationals in ‘19 (10.60 K/9), but over the last three seasons those numbers are down considerably (20.3% K%, 8.22 K/9 in 2020; 19.0%/7.50 in ‘21, and 18.0%/7.55 in ‘22), but Martinez, as Rizzo said, told reporters he believes the lefty still has the ability to strike batters out when he needs to, even if he is a different pitcher now, and does not have to be rely solely on inducing weak contact.
“I think he can do a little bit of both,” the skipper said. “I really do. If the spin on his slider comes back to what we think it can be, yeah he can strike guys out. But early contact with him, as we all know, they swing a lot, so those first couple pitches are important to him. And mostly keeping the ball down.
“When he gets the ball up, is when he got in trouble on his first pitches. So he’s got to work down in the zone.”