ATLANTA -- The Nationals were clicking on all cylinders when they won the World Series in 2019, and Patrick Corbin and Victor Robles each had one of the best seasons of their career thus far. The 33-year-old pitcher and 25-year-old center fielder will need to channel the '19 season to help lead Washington during its rebuild.
In the Nationals' 3-2 loss to the Braves on Tuesday at Truist Park, Corbin entered his 30th start of the season looking to change his fortune, especially against Atlanta. The left-hander’s 18 losses lead the Majors and his 6.08 ERA is the highest among qualified pitchers. He was 0-9 with a 7.28 ERA in his past nine starts against Atlanta.
Unfortunately for Corbin, he didn't get a chance to rewrite the script, as he exited the game with back spasms after throwing just 12 pitches in the first inning.
"I didn't feel anything before or going into [the start]. The last pitch that I threw just kind of grabbed on me," Corbin said. "... It's in a spot right in the middle of my back on the lower side of it. If I could have pitched, I would have. Never want to put the bullpen in a situation like that. I tried to wait as long as I could to see if it would, but it just wasn't going away. I don't think it'll be too serious."
If the Nationals decide to shut down Corbin out of precaution, it would allow him to start from the ground up and figure out the differences between this season and the championship season as he prepares for next year. Corbin signed a six-year, $140 million deal in December 2018, and he'll make $24 million in '23 and $35 million in '24. He was 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA in '19 when he earned the win in Game 7 of the World Series.
“It was back spasms, so we'll see how he feels tomorrow,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He threw a pitch and [his back] tightened up on him. He started trying to stretch, we went out there and he said it just cramped up on him. He couldn't get loose. He tried to get back on the mound. As he was going back on the mound, he said he just couldn't get loose. So smart thing to do is to get him out of there.”
Playing directly behind Corbin, Robles is continuing to develop muscle memory for his new swing.
The right-handed hitter has been streaky throughout the season, accounting for four four-game hitting streaks. As soon as a streak ends, though, he's plagued by a cold spell. From April 28 to May 1, Robles had nine hits in four games, but he was hitless in his next two appearances. From May 26-29, he recorded seven hits in four games, but then he had no hits in his next 10 at-bats. From June 14-17, Robles had five hits in four games, but he followed with an 0-for-15 skid. From July 23-26, he tallied seven hits in four games, but he went 0-for-8 over the next two games.
The biggest issue with this trend is that despite Robles working with hitting coach Darnell Coles on shortening his swing, which has produced clear results when the shortened swing is executed, he has a tendency to resort back to his long swing when he gets comfortable after a short stint of success.
"[The] last few games, he's done really well," Martinez said. "He's hitting the ball a lot better. He's been working due diligently with Darnell about shortening his swing a little bit and staying in the strike zone [longer]. And it's been working for him.
"They say all habits are hard to break. We went to the West Coast, where he was hitting everything hard. And then we came back, and he reverted back to wanting to get his hands a little bit lower. But I think he understands now that this is something he needs to do to make his future what we feel like it could be."
Robles came to Atlanta on a five-game hitting streak, but after he went hitless in the first game of the series, it seemed like the pattern would continue. Instead, Robles was 1-for-4 and played his part in Washington's ninth-inning surge with a beautifully placed bunt, even though it was ruled that he reached on a fielder’s choice.
Generally if a player is hitting well, they stay in the lineup. In Robles' case, his defense has kept him in the Nationals' order. When his bat has faltered, the center fielder has been able to rely on his glove. He made an all-out diving catch in the sixth inning on a Travis d'Arnaud line drive that had an expected batting average of .770, a catch probability of 35% and an opportunity time of 3.3 seconds.
"In all honesty, it doesn't surprise me," Robles said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I know a lot of people obviously see it as a great play, but I expect it of myself."