- Associated Press - Thursday, April 28, 2022

For just the second time this season, a Nationals starting pitcher got through six innings, and it was a welcome sight.

Ranked as one of the worst rotations in the majors, Washington’s poor starting pitching is a big reason the team is in last place in the NL East. And no Nationals starter had struggled as mightily as Patrick Corbin.

However, on Thursday afternoon, the southpaw tossed his best game of the season against the Marlins, striking out eight and allowing four hits and two earned runs in six innings.

But it still wasn’t enough.

Washington’s bats remained ice-cold — even chillier than the 48-degree weather at Nationals Park for the matinee — as the team dropped its eighth-straight game with a 3-2 loss. The Nationals, who fell to 6-15 with the defeat, tallied only four hits.

“Right now, throughout our lineup, there’s no consistent at-bats,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “We’re not getting that big hit. We’re not having that big inning. We need to start swinging the bats a little bit better.”

During the skid, Martinez’s lineup has mustered only 16 runs. The Nationals have scored more than four runs in just three of their 21 games.

“We’ve got to stay positive,” Martinez said about the drought. “It’s been tough. I’m not going to lie. It’s been tough.”

Despite the loss, Corbin’s outing was much needed. The recent difficulties for the expensive lefty are nothing new.

It’s been years since Corbin has thrown like someone worthy of the six-year, $140 million contract the Nationals gave him after the 2018 season.

The former Diamondbacks star pitched well in his first season with Washington in 2019, helping lead the franchise to a World Series title. But he took a step back in the shortened 2020 season with a 4.66 earned-run average and a National League-worst 85 hits allowed in 65 2/3 innings.

His performance took another dip in 2021, as Corbin was one of the worst full-time starting pitchers in all of Major League Baseball. He lost 16 games, allowing 111 earned runs (5.82 ERA) and 37 home runs — all NL highs.

Then, through four starts prior to Thursday, Corbin had an 11.20 ERA. His previous start was a disaster, as the 32-year-old gave up seven runs in just 1 2/3 innings versus the Giants. But he hasn’t been alone. Entering Thursday, Washington’s rotation ranked second-to-last in MLB with a 6.55 ERA.

“I’ve really been working hard trying to go out there and kind of get back to where I was,” Corbin said. “Today was a good step in that direction.”

“I thought he threw the ball really well today,” Martinez said. “If he could repeat that every five days, that would be awesome.”

Corbin (0-4) allowed an unearned run in the third when Marlins leadoff hitter Jon Berti doubled to score Miguel Rojas, who reached on a Lucius Fox throwing error, to tie the score at one. Josh Bell had given the Nationals a rare lead with a bloop double down the right-field line in the first inning. That hit was the last one Washington would have until the eighth inning.

The Marlins then took a 3-1 lead in the seventh. Corbin, who cruised through the middle innings thanks to a sharp slider, allowed a leadoff double and hit the next batter before being pulled. Reliever Victor Arano allowed both of Corbin’s runners to score before getting out of the jam, turning Corbin’s excellent line into just a good one. 

Nevertheless, even pitching into the seventh is something only one Nationals starter had done this season, as Joan Adon went 6 1/3 against the Diamondbacks on April 19.

“I felt really good. I’ve been working on a lot of stuff, so it was good to see some results out there,” Corbin said. “I just hope to continue off this. It’s been a tough week or so for us here. It stinks we didn’t get the win, but guys are out there fighting. The [wins] will come.”

As they’ve had multiple times during the losing streak that dates back to April 20, the Nationals did have their chances at a comeback.

Back-to-back doubles from Victor Robles and Cesar Hernandez in the eighth cut the deficit in half. But Josh Bell, who entered the game as Washington’s best statistical hitter, struck out to kill the rally. Nelson Cruz walked to lead off the ninth, but Marlins reliever Cole Sulser retired the next three batters to save the game.

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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