One focus for the Nationals and 24-year-old left-hander MacKenzie Gore this past season was to work on getting his emotions under control on the mound.
“We’ve just got to keep him under control a little bit,” Washington’s manager Davey Martinez said before Gore’s final start of his second season in the majors and his first full year in D.C., after he was acquired from San Diego in the deal which sent both Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres at the trade deadline in 2022.
“He gets very emotional,” Martinez continued.
“He pitches with a lot of intensity, which I love, but he’s got to be able to control that at times.”
MacKenzie Gore, Vicious 90mph Back Foot Slider.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 23, 2023
4th K thru 3 pic.twitter.com/7gil5Shume
Gore, his manager said at times last year, strives for perfection, and would get visibly frustrated at times when things didn’t go his way, but he’d made strides according to Martinez.
“Much better,” the sixth-year manager told reporters late in the season. “Much better. He could throw a pitch back when I first saw him and just completely lose his mind. Now he understands he needs to get to that next pitch, and he’s still so young, but he’s got to be able to control his emotions, control his heartbeat at times, and he’s done a lot better in high-leverage situations as we all can see. When he stays together and uses his emotions in the right way, man, he can get outs, he can get outs quick, and he can strike guys out. But that’s like I said, he’s young, he’s hungry, he wants to go out there and compete and he wants to help us win a championship, which is all the right things.”
Gore’s 2023 campaign ended in early September, with a blister on his finger shutting him down long enough the club decided against ramping him back up for an additional outing, especially coming off a 2022 season in which he was limited by an elbow issue.
While the results were mixed this season, Gore made 27 starts in his first full major league run, posting a 4.42 ERA, 4.89 FIP, 57 walks (3.76 BB/9), and 151 Ks (9.97 K/9), giving up 27 HRs (1.79 HR/9), with a .258/.331/.459 line against in 136 1⁄3 IP.
Gore finished the year, “[r]anked 7th in the NL with 9.97 SO/9.0 IP (min. 135.0 IP),” as the Nationals noted in their Season in Review, and, “[r]anked among NL LHP in SO/9.0 (3rd, 9.97), SO (5th, 171) and opp. AVG (5th, .258).”
“His curveball boasted a 37.9% whiff rate (swing&miss/total swings),” the club added, “12th among all MLB curveballs (min. 100 PA) and the 3rd among MLB lefties.”
MacKenzie Gore, Dirty 86mph Curveball...and Sword ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/u9UuQTdf4D— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 18, 2023
“He’s got to understand who he is,” the Nats’ skipper said when asked where there was room for improvement in Gore’s game going forward.
“He’s got electric stuff. He’s just got to pound the strike zone and work ahead. When he’s good he’s really good, and when he’s bad he’s not that bad.”
“He’s still young,” Martinez added. “He’s still learning. He’s learning a lot about himself. He’s learning a lot about what he can and can’t do. But I know that in the future he’s going to be a guy to be reckoned with. I’m not just talking about in short term, I’m talking about long term. I think with him, we have a chance to win here and get back to where we need to be, and that’s to be in the playoffs.”
Gore threw 70 innings in the majors in ‘22, (with an additional 17 in the minors) between the Padres and Nats’ AAA clubs, so his season ending when it did wasn’t the worst outcome for the lefty.
“He jumped — he went from 70 innings last year to — yeah, so he’s in a good spot,” Martinez said in late September.
“Unfortunately he did have a blister issue, but I think he probably would have got one more start and we would have shut him down.”
When he talks to Gore about taking the next step, where is the focus now?
“When I talk to him, it’s all going to be about consistency,” Martinez said.
“When he’s good, he’s good. And we talk about that all the time. His stuff is always electric.
MacKenzie Gore, Nasty 89mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/HkN1668uXR— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 2, 2023
“We’ve got to get him to understand how to use his stuff, how to attack hitters a little better, being around the zone. His misses got to be more around the zone. But overall, I think he’s matured from the beginning of the year to now tremendously. He really has. I remember battling with him, with his emotions out on the field, high-leverage situations, giving up a hit, he just gets all rattled. And he was able to calm that down towards the end here and kept us in ballgames.”
“I told him before: You’re a future All-Star, if you want to be,’” Martinez added.
“Physically, he’s great. The mental game is what he’s really working on a lot, and he’s done really well with that.”