WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Patrick Corbin’s spring ERA is up to 5.00. Contact on Monday by the Miami Marlins was frequent and loud. Corbin allowed nine hits in five innings. Several outs were hit hard. He’s up to 21 hits allowed in his last 13 innings.
If that sounds alarmist, it shouldn’t. It’s not preferred. It’s also a good time for spring training standards about working on things and feeling good being more important than results. Typically, that is the actual case.
“I felt pretty good,” Corbin said. “Got in a rhythm there in the middle innings. Just upset with one out in the fifth, had the pitcher 0-2 and kind of started a rally for them. But, it was good to keep continuing that pitch count. Felt like the ball was coming out better today.”
Manager Davey Martinez backed Corbin’s assessment. He liked what he saw, though, like spring training caveats, Martinez’s relentlessly positive comments need a bit of buffering when considered.
Corbin stands as the Nationals’ largest risk of the offseason. Their biggest investment in time and money went to the left-handed starter. They also moved early to acquire him in what became such a lagging market Dallas Keuchel remains unemployed on March 18. Paying Corbin $140 million removed the Nationals from the Bryce Harper pursuit. Washington’s pitching depth is limited. The weight is significant.
For the Nationals to have the best rotation in the division -- if not the league -- they need Corbin to be a not-so-distant third in the pecking order. Last year marked a third consecutive year of improvement for Corbin. Much of his success was pinned on a “curveball” which was more of a lower-speed slider.
Match Corbin, 137 ERA-plus in 2018, with the other No. 3 starters in the division: Zack Wheeler in New York, who finished with a 111 ERA-plus in 2018. Nick Pivetta in Philadelphia, 87 ERA-plus last season. Kevin Gausman in Atlanta, a 105 ERA-plus in Baltimore and Atlanta combined. The Nationals paid to have a significant gap between their third-best pitcher and that of the rest of the division.
The same metric showed Max Scherzer (168) trailing two of the top starters in the NL East: Jacob deGrom (216 in a career year) and Aaron Nola (175). Though WAR compares that group more favorably. Nola and deGrom finished at 10.0; Scherzer 9.5. In essence, it’s a wash.
Down a step to second in the rotation: Sean Newcomb at 104 in Atlanta, Noah Syndergaard at 124 in New York, Jake Arrieta 105 in Philadelphia. Stephen Strasburg landed at a career-lowing tying 114 in 2018.
Which is why Corbin is so important. The 1-2 combos around the division are close to the Nationals’ top duo (though an argument can be made for Strasburg’s potential separation; New York would take the same stance with Syndergaard). The third spot in the rotation is an expected gap. The Nationals paid for the premise. Corbin has to deliver it.
Ross stretches to new limits
Joe Ross started a split-squad game Monday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. In the past, this would not be noteworthy. In this camp, it’s a change for Ross.
“We want to stretch him out a little bit,” Martinez said before the game. “See if we can get him three up and downs, but we have to really pay attention to his pitch count. We want him to be around 45, 50 pitches.”
The Nationals continue to evaluate what they will do with the right-hander. He threw 61 pitches Monday in three innings. Prior, he was making one-inning appearances out of the bullpen. Washington could use a “long man” there. It also wants to monitor Ross’ workload this year. So, the question becomes, do they want Ross to be able to make multiple appearances in a week? Or do they want him situated as a starter who begins the season in Fresno as insurance?
“We’re still thinking about that,” Martinez said. “And we’re still thinking about Joe; what’s best for him. It’s hard to say because of his injury. I really still believe he can start. I really do. It would be nice if we can get him a little bit stretched out and see where we’re at.”
Would it be easier to control his workload if he were in a bullpen role?
“It all depends on how you use him in the bullpen and what we leave within the bullpen,” Martinez said. “If he’s going to pitch in the bullpen, then he needs to pitch. I don’t want him just to be a guy who goes out there and throws two innings one day, then [I] can’t use him for two or three days. But we’re going to weigh that here in the next week.”
Zimmerman and how speed kills
Here’s an inning for Ryan Zimmerman on Monday: Infield single; going first-to-third on a single; scoring on a safety squeeze.
Zimmerman, entering his age-35 season, accomplished all of this with maintenance welts from cupping procedures (the welts are a natural byproduct of suctioning from cupping) on both calves.
He’s appeared in nine major-league spring training games this season after playing in just one last spring. A week of games remains. Zimmerman’s spring training playing time should be in line with past years when the Nationals’ time in Florida is finished.
The Nationals made another round of cuts Monday when they optioned starting pitcher Austin Voth, reliever Jimmy Cordero, starter Kyle McGowin and reliever Tanner Rainey to Triple-A Fresno.
Reliever J.J. Hoover and outfielder Hunter Jones were re-assigned to minor-league camp.
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