WASHINGTON — Prior to Sunday’s game, the last time the Nationals faced Justin Verlander was Game 6 of the 2019 World Series. The Houston Astros also hadn’t seen Patrick Corbin since Game 7 of that series, when the left-hander tossed three innings out of the bullpen to help Washington clinch its first title in franchise history.
The Nationals and Astros were originally scheduled to face each other in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic forced teams to play only regional opponents that season and MLB skipped their divisions’ turn in the rotation the following year. Not that it prevented them from facing Verlander, who underwent Tommy John surgery and made just one start from 2020-21.
Back healthy this season, Verlander entered Sunday’s game leading the American League with four wins and a 1.55 ERA in six starts. He nearly threw a no-hitter in his last outing and was just as effective against Washington on Sunday. The Nationals didn’t record a hit against him until the fifth inning, though they did go into enough deep counts to drive his pitch count up early.
Verlander did receive some help from home plate umpire Angel Hernández, particularly on a strike three call to Yadiel Hernández that was over an inch above the zone. However, the 39-year-old still very much looked the part of a two-time Cy Young winner and former MVP. He exited the game after five scoreless, scattering two hits and three walks with five strikeouts.
“He's one of the best in the game, and he understands what he needs to do,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said of Verlander in his postgame press conference. “You watch how he pitches, his mechanics and his body are very well in-tune. That's one thing I noticed. He uses his legs really well, the ball comes out well. He throws 97, but it doesn't really look like the ball's 97 and that's a testament to what he does and how he perceives and how he works on his mechanics.”
While Corbin started Sunday with a 6.06 ERA on the year, he had been much better over his last three starts with just five earned runs allowed in 19 innings (2.37 ERA). He worked efficiently and put together another promising outing that was marred by a seventh-inning home run. The Astros scored all five of their runs against him on the long ball.
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Over his first six innings of work, Corbin allowed three runs on five hits and a walk. Martinez opted to send him back out for the seventh with the lefty at 78 pitches, but he walked Jose Siri and allowed a home run to Chas McCormick that ended his afternoon.
“The results ended up not being in my favor but I felt really good,” Corbin said. “Just happy the way that I felt but tough to give up the couple home runs there.”
“I felt strong even when I was coming out. The last at-bat there on the homer, [I threw] probably my two worst changeups of the day but I still felt pretty solid even before that.”
With the Nationals’ bats unable to solve the Astros’ bullpen any better than Verlander, Washington dropped two of three in the series to fall to 12-23. Corbin, whose ERA increased to 6.28, picked up his sixth loss of the year. The Nationals have yet to win any of his eight starts.