Patrick Corbin has a wayward outing in the Nationals’ sideshow of a loss

ATLANTA — Different year, all-too familiar kind of night for Patrick Corbin, who removed his hat, wiped some sweat from his face and waited, head down, for Manager Dave Martinez to take the ball. There were two outs in the bottom of the third.

Corbin faced just 20 batters in the Washington Nationals’ 16-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night. Those hitters finished 9 for 17 with three walks. Take out the first inning, though — when Corbin saw just four batters — and the Braves were 9 for 14 against him with three doubles. The second and third were a total mess. The fourth was, too, because of a struggling Austin Voth and a circus play by the Nationals’ defense.

To chase Corbin, the Braves punished low sliders and high fastballs, logging six runs on nine hits. During spring training, when Corbin reflected on his horrid 2021, he admitted to throwing high fastballs because he didn’t know what else to do. He vowed to stop forcing himself into a modern trend, knowing he’s best when he’s below the zone. But two of the Braves’ run-scoring hits came on elevated heat, showing either poor control or a reversion to bad habits. The Braves added four hits and three earned runs against Voth, then repeated that with Paolo Espino on the mound.

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The outing served multiple frustrating purposes for Washington. It raised more doubts about whether Corbin can rebound from last year. It further taxed the bullpen in a stretch of 18 games in 18 days to begin the season, which would have been worse if Espino didn’t record nine outs before Martinez used utility man Dee Strange-Gordon to pitch the eighth. And Corbin overshadowed the 100th homer of Juan Soto’s career, a 451-foot shot off rookie Bryce Elder in the sixth.

Soto and Josh Bell crushed back-to-back homers to taint the end of Elder’s debut. Otherwise, the 22-year-old carved through a lineup down Nelson Cruz, who was scratched shortly before first pitch. The Nationals did not disclose a reason before the final out. Among things to discuss postgame were Corbin, Cruz, the offense and a jaw-dropping sequence in the fourth.

Not the good kind, either.

With Voth on in relief, after Marcell Ozuna cracked his first of two homers, Ozzie Albies hit a sharp grounder to Bell at first. Bell stepped on the bag for an unassisted putout. Simple enough, right? But once Bell threw to shortstop Lucius Fox, trying to trap Orlando Arcia between first and second, simple left the building. Guillermo Heredia, who began the play on second, leaked off third and forced Fox to fire the ball to catcher Keibert Ruiz. The Nationals had Heredia in a rundown instead of Arcia, and that’s when they ultimately erred.

Ruiz threw to third baseman Maikel Franco. Franco threw back to Ruiz. Ruiz threw to second baseman César Hernández, who initially backed up Franco, then Hernández threw back to Franco, who was now backing up Ruiz. Franco jogged up the line as Heredia retreated to third. But Ruiz never moved out of the way after his last throw, clogging Franco’s lane to hit Fox, who was covering the bag. Heredia, seeing an opportunity, barreled into Ruiz in foul territory. Franco pivoted and threw to Soto, who had charged in from right field to help, but the ruling was decided: obstruction on Ruiz permitted Heredia to score and Arcia to take third.

Four Nationals stood around looking at one another. They didn’t record the third out.

What is Washington’s rotation for the rest of the week? Josiah Gray will face lefty Max Fried in the series finale Wednesday afternoon. After that, the Nationals head to Pittsburgh for four games, with Joan Adon going Thursday, Erick Fedde on Friday, Josh Rogers on Saturday and Corbin again Sunday. Rogers sticks in the rotation because Aníbal Sánchez will still be on the injured list with a cervical nerve impingement in his neck. But based on Martinez’s pregame comments Tuesday, it doesn’t appear Sánchez is particularly close to returning.

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What’s going on with the depth arms in the minors? Reliever Tyler Clippard has felt good, Martinez said, backed by four scoreless appearances for Class AAA Rochester (including a one-two-three eighth Tuesday). Clippard, 37, joined the Nationals on a minor league deal in March. So did Aaron Sanchez, 29, who started for the Red Wings on Tuesday and threw 81 pitches in five innings.

Both righties reported late and dealt with injuries in 2021, making the Nationals want to be extra cautious. Martinez wants Clippard to record four or more outs with Rochester and work back-to-back days. And if there is a need for one of him or Sanchez soon, the club would have to clear a spot on the 40-man and active rosters.

Who took out the Nationals’ lineup card before the game? Martinez typically taps bench coach Tim Bogar for this duty. But Tuesday, he sent Eric Young Jr., the Nationals’ new first base coach, so he could exchange lineup cards with his father at home plate. Eric Young Sr., a teammate of Martinez’s with the Chicago Cubs in 2000, coaches first base for the Braves. Martinez has praised Young Jr.’s early work with the Nationals’ outfield defense and base running.

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