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Patrick Corbin leads Nats in wire-to-wire victory over Mets

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Patrick Corbin leads Nats in wire-to-wire victory over Mets

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets, 5-1, Wednesday to up their record to 17-25. Here are five observations from the game…

1. A peaceful night at Nationals Park. For once.

Patrick Corbin dominated for eight innings, Anthony Rendon went 3-for-4, the Nationals scored early, Sean Doolittle finished the game.

These nights have been rare. Typically, turmoil kicks up in the field or via the bullpen. Not Wednesday. The Mets started little-known Wilmer Font (setting off a social media pun storm) against the Nationals’ biggest offseason investment. After yet again losing a series opener, and with Anibal Sanchez pitching Thursday’s series-ending day game, Corbin’s matchup against Font was crucial. The Nationals owned it.

“It’s great for tonight, but we’ve got to do it consistently,” Howie Kendrick said.

Victor Robles homered. Kendrick drove in two. No gaffes were made in the field. No one second-guessed the manager. They just won.

“When you go out there the top of the first and you put runs up early everybody loosens up,” Davey Martinez said. “We talk about it all the time. Hey, let’s score first. Score first. Even if it’s just a run you know? Just get on top early and we will go from there. We did that today. Everyone was relaxed. I can’t say..they have fun every day, if you watch them they are always laughing joking around, but today they were loose. Robles hits the home run and they were all jumping around. It was just a fun, crispy day.”

2. Corbin has carved his ERA down to 2.91. He’s allowed a run in the last 16 innings on the mound. In short, during this ongoing season of failure, he’s validated the Nationals’ $140 million offseason purchase.

His slider usage Wednesday was extreme -- even for him. Corbin threw 43 sliders, 33 four-seam fastballs, and 24 two-seam fastballs. He threw five curveballs, which are even slower than his sliders. In essence, Corbin threw two pitches Wednesday night to baffle the Mets. His fastball either stayed on its plane or had run. His slider looked just like his fastballs, but were 10 mph slower with a late break.

“We had a great game plan coming in,” Corbin said. “Yan [Gomes] did a good job behind the plate. Mixed some fastballs inside and outside and threw some strikes with the breaking ball mixing in a couple of changeups, some slower breaking balls. Just want to stay out of the middle of the plate. That was something we were able to do tonight.”

This is the formula Corbin has discovered the last two years. It’s not so much in and out or up and down. It’s more making pitches look identical for the majority of their path to the plate. Some are slower, some veer, some stay true. Figuring out which it will be is beguiling the opposing offense.

3. Juan Soto came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth with a .231 batting average. An opposite-field single bumped him to .237.

What’s been happening with Soto since the start of the season? More of the same, really.

Opposing pitchers throw him fastballs 44.1 percent of the time. His zone percentage -- the percentage of pitches he sees inside the strike zone -- is just 37.8. That’s a tiny number. For comparison, Mike Trout’s zone percentage is 41.3. Christian Yelich -- .331 average, .450 on-base percentage and .719 slugging percentage and reigning MVP -- is at 38.3 is seeing more strikes.

So, where are the year-over-year deviations for Soto which have caused his average and OBP to drop? He’s swinging three percent more often at pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s also missing those pitches much more often -- 68.1 to 60.2. Simply, Soto is swinging at pitches outside of the zone more often and instead of fouling them off or punching them into play, he’s missing them. Hence, his K-percentage is up to 28.7 after just 20.0 last season.

4. Kendrick re-entered the starting lineup Wednesday. Dropping him in, and having Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto also in the lineup, helps finally lengthen the lineup again.

Kendrick hit fifth Wednesday. Once Trea Turner returns -- possibly as soon as this weekend -- Kendrick will be bumped to sixth and Victor Robles could we be flipped back to ninth. That puts the catching tandem back to seventh, in front of the pitcher. The 6-9 hitters Wednesday went 0-for-12.

Washington will have to continue to monitor Kendrick’s playing time. But, he should have plenty of windows when either of the first basemen return. Kendrick could play part-time at first as well as part-time at second -- this is known as the original plan. If the Nationals can find a consistent third layer among Brian Dozier, Ryan Zimmerman or Matt Adams, then this struggling lineup will be all the more dangerous. It will also be out of excuses for poor performance.

5. Trevor Rosenthal was back with his big league teammates -- for a day.

Rosenthal went through regular routines with the rest of the bullpen members Wednesday. He shagged fly balls during batting practice and chatted with Martinez and pitching coach Paul Menhart in the outfield. They each mimicked pitching motions at one point.

“He’s coming along,”  Martinez said. “For him, it’s continuing to get his reps in.”

Rosenthal is going back to Double-A Harrisburg on Thursday. He hopes to pitch there twice at the end of the week. His return to Nationals Park is not imminent. Rosenthal needs to pitch back-to-backs games, as well as show he can consistently throw strikes before he will be back in Washington’s bullpen.

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Davey Martinez wishes Nationals just kept playing after Marlins outbreak

Davey Martinez wishes Nationals just kept playing after Marlins outbreak

WASHINGTON -- They played five innings -- sort of -- Saturday. Then six more -- sort of -- Sunday.

What the Nationals didn’t do was play the Miami Marlins for three games after appearing to wake up in back-to-back wins against Toronto last week. The weekend series against Miami was postponed while Major League Baseball’s scheduling complications persisted amid playing baseball in a pandemic.

The Nationals took Friday off, played two simulated games over the weekend, then took Monday off (though coming to the park was a voluntary option). Just seven games into the season, they were again stalled out, dealing with the replication of an All-Star break seven days after getting started. The short ramp up to the season stole chances to improve timing and get up to game speed. The break pushed both back, too.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, we much rather would have been playing,” Davey Martinez said Sunday. “The bats started coming around. The last two games [we] started playing fairly well. We got this little lull, but we’ve done everything we possibly can to get ready.

“Trying to keep these guys going. Keep their at-bats going. It’s tough not having that game speed, that actual adrenaline playing other teams. But, the boys are doing good.”

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Reliever Tanner Rainey needed the break after five appearances in seven games. And, Juan Soto, expected back Tuesday night, needed the time to do every baseball activity possible. Saturday, he hit all day, then ran the bases. Sunday, he stayed in left field for all six simulated innings. He was twice restricted to his apartment for quarantine in July. He’s behind. His absence was glaring. So now Soto is trying to hustle back.

When everyone returns to rain-soaked Nationals Park on Tuesday, they will see a longtime division rival, the New York Mets, in what has become a typical state. The Mets were the story across baseball Monday when outfielder and designated hitter Yoenis Céspedes decided to stop participating in the season because of COVID-19 concerns, but did not initially tell the Mets. He just decided not to show up. Or so the Mets said.

The Mets don’t even have this straight.

“There’s two sides of the story,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo told reporters. “We have the side where [the Mets] were let known before the game [Sunday] and we’ve also heard the side where they weren’t let known until the eighth inning, so I honestly don’t know which one to believe and I’m not going to try to figure that one out, but as far as us, we knew that people could walk whenever they wanted.”

Recall the Mets’ situation in late-May of 2019: The Nationals arrived at Citi Field for a four-game series. The Mets held a press conference before the series began to explain that Céspedes had suffered a “violent” fall from a horse on his ranch (the story evolved into an exchange with a wild boar which led to  Céspedes’ ankle fracture). General manager Brodie Van Wagenan also used the press conference to give then-manager Mickey Callaway a vote of confidence. The Mets were a mess -- until they swept the four games from the Nationals in a new stunning way, day after day. Then, it was Martinez who needed the public reassurance from his general manager.

The eventual ending was better for the Nationals.

Tuesday night starts just a two-game series. Patrick Corbin pitches for the Nationals. Steven Matz pitches for the Mets. Washington is trying to get its act together. The Mets are...well, the Mets. Sounds familiar.

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Braves pitcher Mike Soroka out for season with torn right Achilles

Braves pitcher Mike Soroka out for season with torn right Achilles

Atlanta Braves ace Mike Soroka is out for the season after tearing his right Achilles tendon Monday night against the New York Mets.

Soroka was hurt in the third inning after delivering a pitch to J.D. Davis, who grounded the ball toward first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Soroka broke toward first to cover the bag, only to go down on his first step off the mound. The right-hander knew right away it was a devastating injury, one that ensures he won't be back on the mound until 2021.

"It's a freak thing that happened," manager Brian Snitker said, delivering the grim news after the Braves lost 7-2 to the Mets. "I'm sorry it did."

Soroka yelled in obvious pain and tried to walk gingerly for a couple of steps before dropping to his knees. He couldn't put any weight on the leg as he was helped toward the clubhouse with the assistance of Snitker and a trainer.

It was a major blow to the two-time defending NL East champion Braves, who had won five straight despite struggling to put together an effective rotation.

"Somebody else is going to get an opportunity," Snitker said. "Things like that happen. These guys will regroup. Somebody is going to get an opportunity to do something really good. Our young guys are going to continue to get better. We're going to be fine."

Soroka, who turns 23 on Tuesday, made his first opening day start last month after going 13-4 with a dazzling 2.68 ERA in 2019 to finish second in NL Rookie of the Year balloting and sixth for the Cy Young Award.

Soroka was making his third start of the season. He came in having allowed just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings but struggled against the Mets, giving up three hits and four walks. He was charged with four earned runs in 2 1/3 innings, the second-shortest outing of his career.

Unfortunately for Soroka, he won't get a chance to make up for it this season.

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