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The Strike Zone

The rare feat and hot start of the Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin

Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks Patrick Corbin is 7-0 for the Diamondbacks after shutting down the Rockies in Denver. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Coors Field is typically a nightmare for pitchers, but that didn't seem to bother Patrick Corbin, who on Monday night turned in one of the best pitching performances ever in the hitter's haven.

Corbin became just the 11th pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game while allowing three or fewer hits at Coors, which opened in 1995. It was also just the third time any opposing pitcher threw a complete game at Coors Field using fewer than 100 pitches; the other two times were by the Rockies' Aaron Cook, on July 25, 2007 and July 1, 2008, both against the Padres. While Cook was a pitch-to-contact type — striking out a total of six hitters in those two outings, which needed just 74 and 79 pitches, respectively — Corbin missed plenty of bats, yet he pitched with remarkable economy. Only five other pitchers have tossed nine-inning complete games at Coors while reaching double digits in strikeouts, and all of them needed at least 120 pitches:

TABLE 1: Pitchers to throw complete games with three or fewer hits allowed at Coors: (From the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index)

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP ER BB SO Pit
Pat Rapp9/17/95FLACOLW 17-0910017114
Hideo Nomo9/17/96LADCOLW 9-0900048110
Darryl Kile9/10/98COLFLAW 3-1921125110
Pedro Astacio6/3/01COLSFGW 11-2932227107
Sun-Woo Kim9/24/05COLSFGW 6-0930013101
Jeff Francis7/24/06COLSTLW 7-0920008129
Roy Oswalt9/6/08HOUCOLW 2-0910026102
Matt Cain9/26/10SFGCOLW 4-2932218113
Kevin Millwood5/18/12SEACOLW 4-0920017113
Patrick Corbin5/20/13ARICOLW 5-1931111097

TABLE 2: Pitchers with 9 IP, CG and at least 10 Ks at Coors:

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP ER BB SO Pit
Brian Bohanon8/28/99COLPHIW 4-09400410137
Pedro Martinez7/29/97MONCOLW 3-09500113128
Kevin Brown7/15/98SDPCOLW 6-291222110126
John Thomson6/4/98COLARIW 5-29422111125
Pedro Astacio7/6/99COLLADW 5-29622010120
Patrick Corbin5/20/13ARICOLW 5-1931111097

Incidentally, the single-game Coors Field record for strikeouts is 14, by Randy Johnson for the Diamondbacks on April 13, 2001, but the Big Unit ran out of bullets after seven innings and 127 pitches.

As for Corbin, he's been pitching well at every venue this season.The 23-year-old lefty has thrown at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs in all nine of his starts, each of which Arizona has won. He leads the league with seven wins and is second in ERA, with a 1.44 mark to Clayton Kershaw's 1.35. With this latest performance, it's a good bet he'll be moving up in Cliff Corcoran's next Awards Watch.

Corbin hasn't received the hype that Matt Harvey has, but like his 24-year-old Mets counterpart, he's in his first full major league season. A second-round 2009 pick by the Angels out of Chipola (Florida) Junior College, he was one of four pitchers acquired by the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren deal on July 25, 2010; Joe Saunders, Rafael Rodriguez and Tyler Skaggs were the others. Less heralded but more advanced than fellow southpaw Skaggs, Corbin never placed on any of the major top prospect lists, and was lost among a veritable flood of Diamondbacks pitching prospects. At the outset of last year, Baseball America ranked Trevor Bauer as the team's number one prospect, with Archie Bradley second, Skaggs third, David Holmberg sixth, Wade Miley eighth and Corbin ninth.

Corbin debuted last April 30, and served two major league stints before coming up to stay on Aug. 1. His 6-8 record and 4.54 ERA weren't especially impressive; he was undone largely by a high home run rate (1.2 per nine) and batting average on balls in play (.319), though he did post a strong 3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's at 2.8 in the latter category this year (7.4 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine), but the bigger breakthroughs have been in terms of defensive support (.246 BABIP) and home run prevention. He's yielded just two longballs in 62 1/3 innings; among NL ERA qualifiers, only Adam Wainwright (0.28 per nine to Corbin's 0.29) has been stingier.

According to the PITCHf/x data at BrooksBaseball.net, Corbin has cut down the homers thanks in part to a slightly faster and more effective sinker, his most frequent pitch — not to mention some help from his defense:

YearVel (MPH)GB/BIPHR/(FB+LD)BABIPAVGSLG
201191.649.7%8.1%.322.313.518
201292.460.2%2.9%.228.234.330

Corbin's BABIP on that pitch is likely to regress; he's in the .280-.300 range for his other three offerings (four-seam fastball, slider and changeup). His slider has become a real knockout pitch; he has boosted his whiff rate on the offering from 24 to 28 percent, and batters this year are hitting .097 with a .161 slugging percentage against it (.294 BABIP), compared to .156 with a .300 slugging percentage (.355 BABIP) last year. Not to be overlooked: He's getting first-pitch strikes on an MLB-high 71.4 percent of his pitches according to FanGraphs.

Corbin's stellar performance has helped to pick up the slack for Ian Kennedy (4.88 ERA, four quality starts out of nine) and Brandon McCarthy (4.76 ERA, three quality starts out of nine), though both Trevor Cahill (2.48 ERA) and Wade Miley (3.67 ERA) have pitched in as well. Overall, the Arizona rotation's 3.39 ERA ranks fourth in the league and its 60 percent quality start rate is fifth. Thanks to a 5-1 tear in which the D-backs have outscored opponents 23-8, they are atop the division with a 26-19 record, one game ahead of the Giants. For all of the criticism leveled at their offseason trades of Bauer and Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks' wealth of pitching may be enough to win the West.

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