Out of the gate, Arizona Diamondbacks No. 5 starter Patrick Corbin wasn’t himself.
Emerging victorious from a battle for the final spot in the team’s rotation, Corbin got off to a recklessly fast start.
Seven wins, no losses in nine quality starts and a major league-best 1.44 earned run average on May 20.
Twelve wins, one loss following the first start of the season’s second half.
A 2.24 ERA through the season’s first four months.
Corbin went from being a prospect who was overshadowed by the likes of the now-departed Jarrod Parker and Trevor Bauer, along with the still-unrealized Tyler Skaggs, Archie Bradley and others to the ace of the big league staff. He went from clawing for a spot on the roster to landing a spot among the National League’s best for the Midsummer Classic.
At 24 years old, he had redefined himself.
Corbin was no longer just an athletic, competitive, left-handed pitcher who projected as a back-of-the-rotation starter. He was now a bonafide big leaguer, among the best in the game, a saving grace on a rotation that was otherwise lackluster.
And then he hit the 160-inning mark and he began to slowly revert to his old self, the one that went 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA in 22 games for the Diamondbacks in 2012.
And then he hit the 170-inning mark and the wheels really started to come off.
While on the mound at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday, August 25 — the day after the Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies played 18 innings over more than seven hours — with 172.1 innings pitched on the year and a 2.45 ERA with a 13-3 record to boot, something went awry. Then and there, Corbin tossed the worst game of his career, allowing nine runs — eight earned — over 5.1 innings pitched.
It was all downhill from there.
“Truth be known, how does he feel now compared to halfway through the season?” manager Kirk Gibson rhetorically asked prior to Friday’s game against the Washington Nationals.
“I think it’s safe to say — not the same,” he answered. “He doesn’t have the same stuff.”
Two starts ago, after a fourth consecutive poor outing from Corbin, questions of a shutdown officially began.
He wasn’t himself anymore.
The second-year starter had thrown exactly 199.0 innings and, despite falling just shy of a major benchmark, the Diamondbacks seemed to be having serious, and justified, discussions about shutting down their budding ace.
But the pitcher himself wouldn’t stand for it.
In his postgame session with the media following that start, which was he shortest of his career, Corbin was clear — he felt fine, despite giving up six earned runs in just 2.0 innings pitched. He said it seven times in two minutes. And he communicated the same to those who were writing his paychecks.
“It’s never been really any question in his mind,” Gibson said of Corbin’s attitude toward finishing the season.
“I don’t think he ever thought for a second that it was the right thing not to do it.”
So, following a 10-hit, four-run, 4.1 inning start in Denver last Sunday, Corbin took the ball for the Diamondbacks Friday, in their 160th game of the season, facing Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals.
“He’s going to see it through to the end,” Gibson commented before the game.
“That’s a good trait. That’s a good quality. He’s not afraid of failure. He’ll learn from it. I know that.”
To Gibson and Corbin alike, finishing the season, finding a way to cope with shortcoming and battle through a lack of sharpness, was of utmost importance, it seems.
“You’ve got to go out there and give your best and you’ve got to get the job done,” Gibson went on. “That’s why it’s important.”
And for a few innings, his woes appeared to be behind him and the prospect of ending the season on a good note seemed within grasp. He had five strikeouts through four innings. But then came the fifth inning, the 208th of his season, and it was just more of the same recent struggles.
Six hits, five earned runs over 5.0 innings pitched. That would be his final final line of 2013.
“He battled and battled and pitched 208.1 innings for us,” Gibson said following the game.
“So, he had an outstanding season. We hoped that the outcome was better for him in his last starts. But they weren’t and he had his head down, but I told him to keep his head up. He had an outstanding year for us.”
Over his final seven starts, he had an 8.00 ERA, a 1-5 record and a 1.861 WHIP.
Though he once sported a 12-1 record, he ultimately finished the season at 14-8, his ERA climbing above 3.00 on September 17 for the first time all season and ultimately landing at 3.41.
But nothing was lost on Gibson in his young pitcher’s end-of-the-season plummet, despite saying it was obvious that Corbin was worn down and lacked the stuff he had early in the season.
“He laid it all out and I think we all can say he gave us everything he had this year and he should be proud of his performance.
“I know I am.”