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Washington Nationals news & notes: Patrick Corbin throws; MacKenzie Gore builds, and Nelson Cruz ... still sits

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability last night in Miami...

Gorechester Update:

Making his third rehab start for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings on Wednesday night in the Buffalo Bisons’ home, Sahlen Field, MacKenzie Gore gave up just one run on four hits in four innings of work, over which he threw 65 pitches, 46 for strikes, walking one batter with four strikeouts.

As noted below, he also retired the final seven batters he faced:

In three rehab starts, the 23-year-old lefty, acquired from San Diego in the Juan Soto/Josh Bell trade, has a 1.08 ERA, three walks, and six Ks in 8 13 IP.

Going into the outing with Washington’s top minor league affiliate, big league manager Davey Martinez said he and his staff told the southpaw to focus on throwing first-pitch strikes.

“He got better as the game went along, and that’s encouraging,” Martinez said of the outing overall. “He threw more strikes, and that’s [something] we talked a lot about, cleaning up his mechanics a little bit and attacking the strike zone. I talked to him before he left about trying to throw strike one every [at-bat] and we’ll work from there. And as the game went along, they said he started doing a lot more of that. And that’s encouraging.

“For me, it’s just about honing in on his mechanics, throwing more strikes.

“And once he does that, I think the five innings, the 75 pitches will come. So he’ll go out there again Monday and see if we get him there.”

As much as he and everyone with the Nationals would like to see Gore make his debut with his new club, they’re sticking with the plan they came up with to build him back up after he ended up on the IL with elbow inflammation when he was still with the Padres. Of course it isn’t just Martinez and Co. who want to see him pitch in the majors again this year.

“It’s him,” Martinez said.

“He wants to come back and pitch. For me, as much as I do want to see him, it’s about sticking to the process and making sure that when he does come back, he’s ready.

“And I just want to see him pitching in the big leagues.

“I’m not going to put any limitations on him, but we’re definitely going to keep a close eye on him if he does. It may only be three innings, it may be four innings. We don’t know that.

“But the fact that he worked really hard to get back and pitch in a game, and if he does pitch in a game for us this year, it would be awesome.”

Corbin Throws; Could Return To Rotation:

Patrick Corbin left his outing in Atlanta after just 12 pitches, when back spasms forced the left-hander from the mound, but he threw on Friday in Miami, and gave his manager some positive feedback after testing his back.

“He threw about 90 feet. He threw well. About 75-80%. So we’ll see how he comes out of that,” Martinez said last night, before the series opener in the Marlins’ home. “He’ll continue to work, get treatment today, and then he’s going to try again to throw tomorrow, and then we’ll go from there.

“But like I said, I had to get him out of the game because his back tightened up on him, he said he feels better, every day he’s feeling better, so we’ll see how he’s doing tomorrow.”

The manager wasn’t ready to commit to the idea of Corbin returning to the rotation next time around.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“I want to see how he feels tomorrow after throwing. And like I said, he wants to try again tomorrow and throw, and then we’ll see how he feels after that.”

In his last six starts, Corbin, who has a 6.08 ERA, a 4.85 FIP, and a .317/.368/.512 line against in 30 starts and 148 IP overall this season, has a 2.73 ERA, 4.13 FIP, and a .242/.265/.404 line against in 26 13 IP.

So Martinez wouldn’t mind seeing the southpaw back on the mound continuing one of the best stretches he’s had in the last three years.

“The last four or five starts, he’s been throwing the ball really well, which is encouraging,” the manager said, “which is great for us. So, yeah, I’d like for him to continue doing what he’s doing and finish out the year. I don’t want him to finish out the year being hurt. But I’m not going to push him either. If he’s hurt, he’s hurt, and we’ll regroup and get him ready for Spring Training. But like I said, today he said he felt a lot better than he did yesterday, so he threw, we’ll see how he feels when he gets up tomorrow and then we’ll go from there.”

Cruz Still Out With Eye Inflammation:

Still no Nelson Cruz last night as the 42-year-old, 18-year veteran waits for inflammation in his eye to subside.

At this point, he hasn’t played since September 13th. So how’s he been doing?

“Nelly is doing — he’s about the same,” Martinez acknowledged before last night’s game in Miami.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

“He’s getting better every day, but he still has some irritation in that eye, so we’ll continue to monitor it, and we’ll see. I told him, I said, ‘If you feel better, if you come in during the games,’ because he’s taking batting practice, he’s trying to get ready, ‘If you ever tell me, hey, you think you can do it,’ we’ll maybe get him a pinch hit appearance and see how he does, and then we’ll go from there, but like I said, for me, the eyes are very important, right? You go up there, and I don’t want to see him take a ball inside and he can’t see it. So I want to make sure that he’s okay.”

In 124 games and 507 plate appearances this year, Cruz, who signed a 1-year/$15M deal to play in D.C. this season, has a .234/.314/.337 line with 16 doubles and 10 home runs.

Will he get a chance to add to those totals?

Gray Area:

As they are monitoring Josiah Gray down the stretch, managing his workload, as they try to get the 24-year-old right-hander through a full MLB season for the first time, Davey Martinez and his coaches are watching their starter closely for any signs of fatigue.

“The thing is that we really look at his mechanics now, and making sure that he’s on his legs, that his arm’s not dragging. It’s purely right now mechanics with him,” Martinez said before Gray took on the Miami Marlins in D.C. back on September 16th.

“[Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey and I, we’re watching him carefully. I know he doesn’t want to slow down, he wants to keep going. But we’ll see how he does today.”

Gray gave up five hits, three walks, and four runs in five innings in the outing against the Fish, with all the damage done in a rough second inning, after which he went on and got through three scoreless in what ended up a 5-4 comeback win for the Nationals.

What, if anything, did the Nats’ skipper see in Gray’s mechanics in the start?

“He threw the ball — you know he flew open a couple times,” Martinez said.

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

“But for the most part he threw the ball down until he had to throw a ball up by design. His breaking ball was a lot better, more in the zone, which was nice, so I thought overall he did a great job.”

The plan at that point?

“I’m going to talk to Hickey,” the fifth-year skipper said, “but I think we’re going to get him back on like 5-6 days to get him back. I think he’ll pitch again in Miami, and then we’ll go from there. I want to see — I really want to get him back out there and see how he reacts, especially after the way he threw the ball today.”

How did he react?

Gray held the Marlins on a run on five hits through five, but struggled in the sixth, giving up back-to-back singles and a base-loading walk to start the inning, then he hit a batter to put the home team up 2-1, gave up an RBI single, 3-1, and had a run score on a groundout, 4-1 Miami. He got out of the inning, but was done for the night in what ended up a 5-2 loss.

Overall, Gray threw 92 pitches, 62 of them strikes, 24 of them in the sixth, walking one and striking out three, getting six swinging and 19 called strikes overall. He really mixed things up too, going slider-heavy (33%, up from a season average of 29.2%), with sinkers for 25% of his pitches (up from 2.6%), while throwing his curve 25% of the time (24.5% average), and a four-seam fastball just 15% of the time (down from 41%), while mixing in a couple changes (2%) according to Baseball Savant.

Here’s what Gray said about his pitch mix, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman:

“It sort of just developed naturally,” he said of the sinker. “I wanted to get a fastball with a little bit more run, and then have my four-seam fastball as well. Just offering two different looks at the same velocity. Today, with the right-handed-heavy lineup, I thought it would be really good to run it back on the outside corner and run it in on their hands. ... I feel like that’s going to be a really effective pitch at the end of the year and next year.”

“Two things he did,” Martinez explained after the loss, “he threw the sinkers, and he threw changeups today, which is awesome. If he can do those two things, and hitters can get off his fastball and his slider, it’s going to help him in the long run.”

The updated plan for the remainder of the season?

“We’re still going to watch it,” Martinez said.

“Now, with the uncertainty of [Patrick] Corbin moving forward, we’ll have to take a look at that. But right now, I’m really on that cusp of what to do in the next two or three days. So we’ll talk to him and we’ll see how Corbin is doing, and then we’ll go from there.”

But he said he didn’t see any signs of fatigue from Gray in Miami.

“Today, I looked at him, he was sharp throughout the whole game. He really was. He didn’t look fatigued. He didn’t work really hard. He was very efficient, so that makes it good.

“He’s had a decent year for us. He’s pitched a lot. We know he’s pitched a lot.

“This is the most innings he’s pitched, so it’s time to sit down and really contemplate what we’re going to do with him next.”