Up until the point they finally decided it would not happen, the Washington Nationals were hoping their rehabbing 23-year-old lefty MacKenzie Gore would be able to get back on the mound to make his debut with the club after he was acquired from the San Diego Padres in the blockbuster deadline deal for Juan Soto and Josh Bell.
“I would expect to see him sometime in one of the last handful of games down the stretch here,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on September 28th.
Two days later, Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez announced their decision to have Gore shut it down following four rehab outings at Triple-A Rochester in the Nats’ system in which he was healthy but showed signs of still needing to build up his arm strength and stamina.
“If he starts,” Martinez said when Gore making his debut with his new club was still a possibility, “I want him to start, and I don’t want to put any limitations on him.
“We’ll keep an eye on him,” the manager added, “and we’ll monitor how long he’s going to go, and we’ll have conversations every inning with him. But the thing for me is that he is pitching, he is in the mound, he is competing, and everything so far has gone right, you know, except for the fact that it is taking him a little longer to bounce back in that third or fourth inning, and that will come.”
“I’m not too worried about that,” Martinez continued.
“So, for me it’s just like I said, making sure that when he leaves this season he feels completely healthy and we can get him going and get him ready for Spring Training.”
Gore, a 2017 1st Round pick by the Padres (No. 3 overall), Gore made his major league debut in mid-April this past season, posting a 4.50 ERA, a 4.12 FIP, 37 walks (4.76 BB/9), 72 Ks (9.26 K/9), and a .248/.346/.376 line against in 16 games, 13 starts, and 70 IP for the Friars before he landed on the IL with left elbow inflammation right before the August 2nd deadline (on July 25th).
“He had a big workload early on this season that he’s never had before,” Rizzo explained in detailing why the Nationals were willing to accept Gore as part of the deal in spite of the elbow issue.
“The injury did make things a little bit more complicated, a little bit more work, we had to do a lot of due-diligence medically.
“But there was nothing hidden and the reports and the MRIs were viewed, and the doctor gave us the thumbs up to compete the trade.
“We were happy to get him. We really see an upside, left-handed starting pitcher in the big leagues for years to come that we control for a long time.”
“It was just some discomfort, and then … it’s minor,” Gore said when he first joined the Nats after the trade. “So yeah, everything’s fine. Just kind of building strength back and getting everything 100%, and should be fine.”
Gore put in the work and got close, but in the end the Nationals decided all the rehab work he put in was enough.
“One, I didn’t want to put him out there,” Martinez said after the final decision was made, “and two, my discussion with him, and my discussion with [Rizzo] is that he won’t pitch the rest of this year. We’re going to — we liked what he’s done in the starts in the minor leagues, so rather than go out there, especially with the uncertainties of what’s going [with the rainy weather late this season], we’re going to get him started on his winter program and get him on a strengthening program, and get him on a stamina program. So he’s going to be working with our trainers. Because he’s new to all this stuff and what we try to do this winter, so we want to get him started here right away, and like I told him, I said, ‘Look, your velo was good, your arm felt good, your body felt good. I know you said you got to a point where you felt a little fatigued towards the end, but for me that’s fine.’ And I explained the whole thing about the whole ‘going through Spring Training’ but his arm, he said, ‘My arm feels great.’ And I said, ‘Well that’s perfect. That’s what we wanted to know.’
“So having him feel good, and having [2020 Nats’ 1st around pick] Cade [Cavalli] throwing now,” after he made his own MLB debut, but had a shoulder issue shut him down, “and he says he feels great, so having those guys get ready for the winter and be ready to go in Spring Training is a plus-plus for us, but I’m excited that [Gore] felt good, so I told him, I said, ‘Look, for me, that’s good enough. When we started this and started your rehab stuff, that’s the point we wanted to get to. For me, if it was something different – if we didn’t have enough pitchers, or whatever, which we do – it would be a different conversation. But I don’t want to push it. I think we’re in a good spot right now.”
Ending on a positive and getting started on his offseason work was a good ending for Gore his new manager said.
“I’m going to talk to him again,” Martinez said. “Because he can throw another bullpen if he wanted to, but I really want him to focus on his strength and conditioning stuff, and really hone in on what they want him to do this winter. I think that’s going to be important for him going into Spring Training. So, like I said, the program is new, I know he’s been here a couple months, and he’s been doing a lot of different things, but our winter program is going to be different for him, so I want him to get started and get in there and work with our strength and conditioning and our trainers, there’s going to be a whole lot of dialogue this winter as far keeping track of what he’s doing, just like all these other guys, but we want to make sure he’s doing everything correctly, and building strength and stamina so when he does come next year he’s able to compete and compete for a year.”
While Gore was, according to Martinez, frustrated he wouldn’t get back on the mound in the majors, the skipper said he thought it was the right decision in the end.
“He wants to compete and he’s a gamer. He was frustrated because he wanted to show us why we traded for him. But I told him, I said, ‘We already know why we traded for you. Our job is to get you healthy and get you ready for next year now.’ And I said, ‘You’re going to pitch a lot for us. So I’m not overly-concerned, don’t worry about what I think of you. I think highly of you, and I think you’re going to have a really good career for us. So let’s just get you ready for spring.’”