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Patrick Corbin manages emotions, rain and Marlins after death of friend Tyler Skaggs

Patrick Corbin manages emotions, rain and Marlins after death of friend Tyler Skaggs

WASHINGTON--Patrick Corbin looked through the Nationals’ roster following dinner Monday. He has worn No. 46 throughout his career and wondered if No. 45 was in use by anyone in the current group. Javy Guerra dons No. 48. Howie Kendrick wears 47. No one else is in the 40s, which meant 45 was free and could be draped across his back Tuesday when he took the mound.

His good friend, Tyler Skaggs, wore No. 45 during his five seasons with the Anaheim Angels. Back when Corbin and Skaggs were just getting started -- both 2009 draft picks by Arizona before being traded together to Arizona -- Skaggs wore No. 37, which Stephen Strasburg currently wears on the Nationals. So, it was No. 45 on Tuesday against Miami, when Corbin was tasked with gulping down emotions, clearing his head and recording as many outs as possible.

Corbin talked with manager Davey Martinez about whether he should pitch a day after his friend’s death. He thought it the right thing to do. Like the grieving Angels on Tuesday, Corbin decided he should go play, a decision part respite and representation. Baseball provided a break. Skaggs would want everyone to take the field.

Corbin controlled himself until a moment of silence for Skaggs -- who died Monday at age 27 of a yet-to-be-announced cause -- draped over the park. No external noise only clears the way for internal chatter. Standing in the bullpen, Corbin began to cry.

“You could tell, not that he wasn’t his usual self, but he was holding it in,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “And when we went out to the bullpen, he kind of lost it a little bit during the moment of silence.”

He reset, finished warming up, went to the mound and etched “45” into the dirt with his finger. From there, his chore of acting like a $140 million pitcher began.

Miami manager Don Mattingly looked on from the opposing dugout still not loose from the aches of 2016 and filled with unwanted familiarity for this process. Marlins’ star pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating crash in September of 2016. It shook and rerouted the organization. Mattingly spoke haltingly through tears at the press conference following Fernandez’s death -- similar to how Corbin would wade through his Tuesday postgame talk. At one point when explaining Fernandez’s joyful playing style, Mattingly paused then muttered, “Oh, God…” before reorganizing his thoughts. Skaggs’ death yanked Mattingly right back to the sadness and shock.

“Your heart goes out to his family and the Angel organization,” Mattingly said pregame Tuesday.

So, having been through it, does he have advice about how to handle it?

“I don't think.... now's not the time for advice,” Mattingly said. “It's more about just kind of thinking about them. Your heart goes out. There's not a playbook for how you go through it. You just try and get through the day.”

Corbin’s stalled in the middle of the third inning. Rain. Again. He retreated to the clubhouse during the 1:16 delay to keep his left shoulder loose. Corbin informed Martinez he was going to continue to pitch. He told Gomes the same thing. An hour went by -- usually when the bell tolls for starting pitchers in a delay -- but Corbin persisted.

“I just felt I couldn’t go [only] three innings for the team,” Corbin said.

He finished seven innings on 87 pitches before admitting to Martinez his legs began to feel heavy. Corbin allowed just a first-inning run, struck out seven and walked none in the Nationals’ 3-2 walkoff win.

Corbin waited by his locker when reporters walked into the clubhouse afterward. A casual greeting was met with a calm hello, then he began to explain his thoughts. He said he sought normalcy to navigate the abnormal. He was concerned about Skaggs’ wife, Carli, and the rest of the family. 

“You can’t believe he’s gone,” Corbin said. “I’m sure it’s hard for a lot of people.”

It soon became harder for Corbin. Being asked to describe his friendship with Skaggs, he started quickly by answering that Skaggs was in his wedding during the offseason. Then, a pause came. Corbin’s head went down. His left hand rose to his face after he trailed off. He pinched his upper lip to temper the emotion, but grief had choked his words. Twenty-five seconds later, a summation came.

“He’s just all I’m thinking about.”

Corbin’s night was done after one more question. He gathered his emotions and belongings before exiting the clubhouse. Monday was the day of the news. Tuesday was the first day back at work. Up next: Wednesday.



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Davey Martinez provides some clarity on the Nationals’ infield plans

Davey Martinez provides some clarity on the Nationals’ infield plans

When Davey Martinez fills in his lineup card on Opening Day, there are going to be many different ways he will be able to pencil in his infielders.

The Nationals manager provided some insight Monday on how he’ll be narrowing down those decisions. In his daily press conference with reporters, Martinez said he wants offseason addition Starlin Castro to focus on second base at least for the first few weeks of spring training.

“Right now, I just want him playing second base,” Martinez said. “Maybe towards the end of spring we’ll get him over to [third base] for a few games. He was put over there last year and he did well. We looked at his numbers and he did well over there. But I want to keep him at second base for right now, let him get his feet underneath him and get him going.”

If things go according to plan for the Nationals, top prospect Carter Kieboom will show promise at third base and Castro won’t need to get many reps there. But just in case Kieboom is slow to adapt to the position, Asdrúbal Cabrera will work out at third with Howie Kendrick slated to do so as well later this spring.

In the meantime, Kendrick will play primarily first and second base, Martinez said. However, the Nationals have a logjam at first with Eric Thames and Ryan Zimmerman already projecting as complementary platoon partners. It’s not yet apparent how Kendrick would get regular at-bats if Castro plays second every day and the Thames/Zimmerman combo is healthy entering the season.

To his credit, Castro is willing to play anywhere Martinez needs him. “I’m going to prepare…If you want me to play at third, if you want me to play at second,” he said in his first media scrum Sunday. “I just expect to be there, to try to keep myself healthy, and just play hard and do my best every day.”

Most of these comments from Martinez come as no surprise and only further emphasize the bigger question: How will Martinez slot whoever starts into his daily lineups?

If Juan Soto moves up to third in the order, the occupant of the cleanup spot is far from a given. Thames seems the most obvious candidate to do so on the days he starts, but that would mean the Nationals would bat three lefties in a row with Adam Eaton slated in at second.

Kendrick could be an option, yet he doesn’t have a spot in the field and won’t be expected to play every day at 36 years old. The only other candidate appears to be Castro, who hasn’t been much of a power hitter in his career but enjoyed a second-half surge in 2019 that was fueled by an emphasis on driving the ball.

Martinez is also entertaining the idea of pushing Trea Turner back from the leadoff spot and hitting him third. Just entertain the idea of this lineup for a second.

CF Victor Robles

RF Adam Eaton

SS Trea Turner

LF Juan Soto

2B Starlin Castro/Howie Kendrick

1B Ryan Zimmerman/Eric Thames

3B Carter Kieboom/Asdrúbal Cabrera

C Kurt Suzuki/Yan Gomes


This lineup is immediately deeper than the previous one with Soto staying at fourth and Castro being pushed back to fifth. The Nationals could then tinker with the order of the 5-6-7 hitters based on how they perform to start the season.

The idea only works, however, if Victor Robles shows signs of cutting down on his strikeout rate and getting on base more often. The centerfielder’s sprint speed of 29.3 feet-per-second is only a tick behind Turner’s rate of 30.4, so the Nationals wouldn’t lose the valuable base-stealing threat they’ve had atop the lineup over the last few years. It’s just a question of whether he takes a step forward in his sophomore season.

As for his veteran catching duo of Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, Martinez noted that Gomes would be getting more playing time this season. The Nationals saw Gomes hit well down the stretch last year after receiving regular playing time while Suzuki nursed an elbow injury.

 “I like to think that we can do the same thing [as last year], but we got to be very careful,” Martinez said. “I know Suzuki looks good, he’s ready to go. But we got to be conscious of his injuries last year.”

Martinez suggested using a system where the catchers would take turns making a majority of the starts each week. He said that Suzuki would be working more with starter Patrick Corbin this spring to help them build a rapport after Gomes was the left-hander’s primary backstop in 2019.

There are still plenty more questions that will need to be answered before Martinez can start on that Opening Day lineup card, but his comments Monday provided an important step toward determining what those questions will be.

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Sean Doolittle says Rob Manfred seems 'out of touch' after trophy joke

Sean Doolittle says Rob Manfred seems 'out of touch' after trophy joke

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Players who have won a World Series -- and those who have come up short -- seethed Monday at Commissioner Rob Manfred's reference to the sport's championship trophy as merely a "piece of metal," saying that comment reflected a disconnect between baseball's boss and those who produce the product on the field.

"It bothered me, man. I hated it. It made him sound really out of touch," said reliever Sean Doolittle, a member of the 2019 title-winning Washington Nationals. "That's the holy grail of our sport. That's what we show up for in the beginning of February, thinking about and working towards."

Added Doolittle: "I just can't believe how out of touch that is. You're the commissioner of our game. You're the steward of this game. That's a really special thing. It's an iconic symbol of our game. Please don't say that, even off-hand, even tongue-in-cheek."

As with so many things being talked about around the majors as spring training gets started, this all stems from the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scam in 2017 and 2018.

There have been calls for players involved to be punished in some way; MLB gave them immunity in exchange for cooperating with the investigation.

"I'm sure a lot of people were mad," three-time AL MVP Mike Trout said at Los Angeles Angels camp in Tempe, Arizona. "They think the punishment should be more or something."

Some think the Astros should be stripped of their 2017 championship, but Manfred said this on Sunday in an interview with ESPN: "The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act."

That phrasing did not sit well.

Doolittle and other players noted that the official name of the hardware itself is The Commissioner's Trophy.

"For him to devalue it the way he did yesterday just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game. At this point, the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says 'commissioner' on it," said Justin Turner, whose Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Astros in the 2017 Series.

"It's pretty obvious what everyone thinks should happen. I mean, no one in this clubhouse or in this room is asking for a trophy to be handed us, by any means. ... But at the same time, we understand how difficult it is to win a World Series. It's hard. It's really hard. And it's something that you have to earn," Turner said at LA's camp in Glendale, Arizona. "It's pretty evident to me that it wasn't earned and it's not something that a banner should be hung in their stadium (or) a trophy should be put up wherever their trophies go."

Like Turner, Evan Longoria has been to a World Series but not won one.

And as with Turner, Longoria was bothered by Manfred's words.

"Well, there's a couple of pieces of metal, right? You get a ring, too. That's a big piece of metal," Longoria said Monday after the San Francisco Giants' first full-squad workout in Scottsdale, Arizona. "I think everybody that plays the game knows it's not just a 'piece of metal.' It's the blood, sweat and tears that go into the, whatever, 175 games or whatever it is that it takes to win a World Series. The sacrifices. I don't know if he said that to make a funny or what, but it's obviously representative of something much bigger than that."

Joe Musgrove, currently with the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitched for the 2017 Astros and said he gets others' frustration with Manfred's comments.

"They don't just hand those out; there's a lot of work that goes into getting one of those. So I can understand why they're upset about it," Musgrove said in Bradenton, Florida. "For me, personally, I think the ring is something that everyone takes with them and that's a special piece you can carry with you forever. There's only one trophy that gets made. That might be more important to the manager than anybody. But at the end of the season, as a team, getting to hold that thing up is pretty special. I understand where their frustration comes in."

Doolittle spoke Monday about the feeling of first holding the trophy Washington won by beating Houston in Game 7 in October.

"There were tears, man. ... It's hard to put into words what it is like to actually hold that trophy above your head for the first time," Doolittle said. "We saw how much that 'piece of metal' meant to the fans, going up and down the streets of D.C. We all know what it means to guys who have spent their whole career in the league, grinding, and they finally got to hold that thing."

Manfred gets to take another swing at the topic when he holds a news conference in Arizona on Tuesday.

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