Still unbeaten, D-backs’ Corbin entering rarified air
PHOENIX — Randy Johnson. Chipper Jones.
Patrick Corbin’s remarkable start has drawn him into an elite crowd.
Corbin became the only left-hander other than Johnson in franchise history to begin a season 6-0 when he threw seven shutout innings in the Diamondbacks’ 2-0 victory over the Braves at Chase Field on Tuesday.
Another Hall of Famer-in-waiting took notice.
The guy sitting next to you can say Corbin looks good. When Chipper Jones tweets it, well, that means something.
“This Corbin dude is pretty nasty!” Jones told his 293,994 followers.
This Corbin dude is pretty nasty!
— Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) May 15, 2013
Corbin said a buddy retweeted the message, then texted him with the news.
“That’s cool that he did that. That’s awesome. As good a player as he was,” Corbin said.
Johnson started 6-0 in 2001 after going 7-0 to open 2000, and he won the NL Cy Young Award each time.
No one is suggesting that Corbin can reach those heights. At the same time, there is nothing to indicate that his start is anything but the result of hard work and an ability to throw quality strikes.
Corbin did not have his best stuff early Tuesday, manager Kirk Gibson said, but he still gave up only three hits while striking out five. His career-high five walks were negated by three double plays, one on a hard line drive to Paul Goldschmidt with a runner on first base in the sixth.
Corbin’s ERA dropped to 1.52, third in the majors behind the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Mets’ Matt Harvey.
“He just battled,” Gibson said. “When he has to make pitches, he misses where he is not going to get hurt. He is very good at that. He uses both sides of the plate very well. He misses a lot way inside. It’s certainly one of his strengths. He does that better than anybody on our staff.”
In a team game, the D-backs (22-18) have won all eight of his starts. He was the victim of two consecutive failed save conversions on the road trip that included stops in New York and San Francisco, but he has won his last four starts while giving up 2, 1, 1 and 0 runs in 27 innings.
Told that he had tied Johnson’s 6-0 start, Corbin managed a little smile.
“Our job is to go out there — we don’t want to lose — and put up a ‘W.’ That’s what I’ve been trying to do every single time out,” he said.
Corbin, 23, has done it by getting ahead of two-thirds of the hitters he has faced this season. He entered the game tied with White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy for the best first-pitch-strike percentage in the majors, 71 percent, and was right about there Tuesday, throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 26 batters he faced, 69 percent.
The math supports the approach. Through the first five weeks of the season, batters were hitting .269 when starting an at-bat 1-0, according to baseball-reference.com. They were hitting .221 when starting the at-bat 0-1. The slugging percentage has an even greater swing, with 1-0 hitters slugging about 100 points higher.
It is not just Corbin among the D-backs’ starters. Brandon McCarthy is throwing 67 percent first-pitch strikes, and Ian Kennedy is throwing 65 percent.
“That’s the philosophy of the Diamondbacks, to get ahead in strike zone,” Corbin said. “I threw a lot of fastballs and was able to do that. That’s just what we do as our pitching staff. I feel I can locate to both sides of the plate, so that makes it a little bit easier.”
Corbin’s forte is keeping those strikes out of the middle of the plate, a task made a little more difficult inasmuch as he has not had much margin for error this season. The D-backs have scored 29 runs in his eight starts, almost half of those (14) in two appearances. Didi Gregorius’ two-run single was all he got Tuesday, but it was all he needed.
Heath Bell, who pitched the ninth for his fifth save, has liked what he has seen.
“He’s just doing what’s he doing. Pitching. Hitting location. He doesn’t care if we score runs or not; he’s just going out and making his pitches and giving us a chance to win games,” Bell said.