- - Monday, September 16, 2019

The Nationals might have some regrets, when it’s all said and done, about 2019. But Patrick Corbin, the ace who signed a six-year, $140 million dollar contract as a free agent before this season, won’t be one.

The left-handed starting pitcher has excelled on the mound, while dealing with personal loss off the field, including the death of one his best friends. Corbin is 12-7 with a 3.20 ERA in 30 starts going into his next outing.

Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died July 1 in Texas at the team hotel at the age of 27 before a series with the Texas Rangers.

Both pitchers were drafted in 2009 by the Angels and were teammates with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012-13.

“I knew him personally,” Corbin told The Washington Times last week. “It was tough for a lot of people. You feel for the family and his wife.”

Adding to the tragedy was published reports in August that Skaggs died from a mix of alcohol, fentanyl, and oxycodone. The manner of death was ruled an accident, with the Skaggs family claiming in a statement that an Angels employee may have been involved in his death.

“It is tough to comment on that,” Corbin said. “You really don’t know what people are doing on their own time. He was just a great person to be around.”

Corbin was one of several major league players who attended the funeral of Skaggs in Santa Monica, California, where Skaggs’ mother is a high school softball coach.

The day after the death of Skaggs, Corbin started at home against the Miami Marlins and gave up just one run on six hits in seven innings. Corbin didn’t get the decision as the Nationals won 3-2. Corbin normally wears No. 46 but he wore No. 45 in that game to honor Skaggs.

Since then, the 30-year-old from upstate New York posted a 1.95 ERA in six starts in July, a 2.78 ERA in five outings in August and a 3.71 ERA in three starts this month.

Corbin’s next start is Tuesday night at the St. Louis Cardinals.

“He is a true professional,” Nationals pitching coach Paul Menhart said.

The lefty is overshadowed on a staff that includes Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.

“You can talk to these guys and pick their brains,” Corbin said.

But the Nationals feel good about their chances with that trio if they can hold on to the top wild-card spot in the National League.

“His preparation is equal to Strasburg and Max,” Menhart said. “We have confidence in all three of them. They are not afraid of the big stage.”

Corbin’s slider, which breaks down and into lefty hitters, is his money pitch. But Menhart said he has gained more confidence in his changeup as the year has progressed.

Corbin made his major league debut with Arizona in 2012. The next season, he was a National League all-star as he went 14-8 with the Diamondbacks.

He was also named to the National League all-star team in 2018 with Arizona, as he finished the year 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA in a career-high 33 starts.

As a free agent, he attracted attention from several teams, including NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies.

Corbin said his roots near Syracuse didn’t play a huge role in going with a team on the East Coast.

“Those were the teams that were interested,” Corbin said. “We enjoyed our time in Arizona. We loved living there, even in the off-season.”

Corbin said his family in New York now doesn’t have to stay up as late to watch games that he pitches in Washington and throughout the East Coast. He and his wife, Jen, bought a place in Florida since she enjoys being near the water.

The Nationals checked most of the boxes that Corbin was looking for in a new team.

“It is just a great group of guys. It is a good team and it is fun to be part of,” he said. “Obviously you want to win. It was the first time in my career to go see teams. The Nationals were at the top of the list. The starting rotation that they have, the young talent they have and a front office that wants to win, there was nothing not to like.”

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