Corbin emerging as ace of backwards rotation

PHOENIX — Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson insists he hasn’t been surprised — even pleasantly — by young left-hander Patrick Corbin’s historic start. We won’t call Gibson dishonest, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone saw this coming.

Heck, even Corbin didn’t expect to be this good through seven starts.

“I didn’t know my start would be like this,” Corbin said after beating the Phillies in a 2-1 game Thursday. “I just want to continue it. There’s a lot of starts left.”

With a one-run gem in which he outdueled three-time All-Star Cole Hamels, Corbin became the first D-backs pitcher ever to open the season with seven starts of at least six innings and two or fewer runs allowed. He’s the only player in the majors right now with such a start intact and the first since Ubaldo Jimenez had 12 such starts in 2010. He’s also the first D-backs pitcher to start 5-0 since Cy Young winner Brandon Webb went 9-0 to start the 2008 season.

It would have taken a crystal ball to anticipate all that or Corbin’s 1.75 ERA, which puts him fifth in the National League.

“We’re not surprised,” Gibson maintained. “That’s why he’s on the team. We’ve got total confidence in him.”

Again, no one could have predicted Corbin, who had 17 big league starts under his belt entering the year, would emerge as the ace of a D-backs rotation that was supposed to be the team’s strong suit. Thus far, things have been a bit backwards.

Ian Kennedy, the staff ace in title, is 1-3 with a 5.19 ERA as he tries to rediscover the stuff that led him to 21 wins and a fourth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting two seasons ago. Brandon McCarthy, added as a free agent in the offseason, has not yet realized the breakout season many predicted for him, as he remains winless with a 6.75 ERA and just one quality start in seven outings.

Lefty Wade Miley has been consistently solid in the fourth spot in the rotation, and Trevor Cahill has come on strong after a couple rough outings early, but little has gone as predicted. And that’s also true of the D-backs’ potent offense, which sits near the top of the NL in numerous categories despite myriad injuries.

That’s not to say the D-backs did not believe Corbin would thrive as their fifth starter. He showed signs of being ready to blossom in the majors last season, and this spring, he took command of the battle for the final rotation spot.

“The kid’s got a great head on his shoulders,” Gibson said. “He’s a total pitcher, total ballplayer.”

Corbin, too, knew he was ready to compete in the majors, and his checklist so far this season is an impressive one. He’s won at Yankee Stadium and he’s outdueled Hamels and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

“I think last year I learned I could pitch in this league,” Corbin said. “That’s the biggest thing I learned last year and I’ve taken into this year.”

The seasoning in 2012 certainly had to help, but Corbin also credits his improved slider for his hot start to 2013. Still, he remains unimpressed with himself, repeating over and over that he just wants to help the D-backs win.

Corbin has shown a humble, even-keeled nature amid his strong start, and moments like Thursday’s inning-ending strikeout of Ryan Howard with two runners on don’t seem to elicit much of a reaction from the 23-year-old.

Perhaps it’s the quiet confidence and aggressive approach, or maybe it’s just a hot streak. Whatever it is, it has made Corbin the D-backs’ ace until further notice.