WASHINGTON — Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale insists he'll continue handling starter Patrick Corbin cautiously, a point made clear by his early removal of the left-hander on Tuesday night.
Corbin, in his sixth start following Tommy John surgery, lasted only 1 1/3 innings in a 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals, an abbreviated outing that suggests how important the Diamondbacks consider the 26-year-old to their future.
"We're always going to err on the conservative side with him," Hale said of Corbin, who needed 36 pitches to escape a three-run first inning and was removed after 54. "We almost didn't let him go out for the second."
Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled in one run and Chris Owings doubled in two during a three-run fourth against Nationals ace Max Scherzer that tied the game.
Four innings later, Wilson Ramos drove in Washington's final two runs on a bloop single off David Hernandez (0-2), and Arizona's ninth-inning rally fell a run short as Jonathan Papelbon earned his 19th save. Drew Storen (2-0) worked a perfect eighth inning for Washington.
"It's tough when I don't really have a feel for the breaking ball throughout that inning," said Hernandez, who walked Ryan Zimmerman and gave up a double to Jayson Werth. "But I still had a chance to make some decent pitches to get out of it."
While a victory would've put Arizona within a game of the .500 mark, preserving Corbin's long-term health was the higher priority for a team that entered Tuesday 8.5 games back in the NL West and 6 games back in the wild card.
Corbin won 14 games in 2013, but did not make a single start the following year. After four minor-league rehab outings, he had completed five innings in each of his previous five big league appearances this season before Tuesday's start drove his ERA up to 3.99.
"We have to be very careful — we want to get through 2015 healthy," Hale said prior to Tuesday's game. "He's going to be our guy in '16, we know that. In '15, he's already proven in his six starts that he deserves to be that guy."
Corbin's outing began with Yunel Escobar's leadoff homer. Anthony Rendon singled, Bryce Harper doubled and then Ryan Zimmerman drove in both with a single to make it 3-0.
The Nationals loaded the bases later in the inning before Scherzer grounded out to end the threat. Harper's walk in the second put two runners on with one out, enough to bring Hale out of the dugout.
"They just came out swinging at everything hard and it didn't seem like they missed the barrell," Corbin said. "I wasn't really fooling them today."
THE HATCHET'S JOB
RHP Josh Collmenter threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in long relief of Corbin only three days after going 4 2/3 innings three days ago. He's thrown a combined 138 pitches in that stretch.
"I try to bounce back as quick as possible," Collmenter said. "The way we use our bullpen, you need to be available as many times as you can."
1B Paul Goldschmidt struck out four times Tuesday, including three against Scherzer, and is now 0 for 15 in his last four games.
"I obviously played terrible tonight," he said. "I had some pitches to hit. Just fouled them off."
Hale said he's still not sure about the future of his starting rotation. RHP Chase Anderson (triceps inflammation) could be activated after only one rehab start, rookie RHP Zack Godley could remain with the team or both might be used in a six-man rotation.
Arizona RHP Rubby De La Rosa (6-5, 4.59) will make just his second career start against the Nationals and LHP Gio Gonzalez (8-4, 3.75), who is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in four career starts against the Diamondbacks.