MacKenzie Gore, a 2017 1st Round pick by San Diego’s Padres acquired by the Washington Nationals last summer in the blockbuster Juan Soto deal, just turned 24 this week, and the lefty, injured at the time of the trade last summer, did not debut with his new team in 2022.
Gore got off to a solid start in the majors, with a 1.50 ERA, 2.20 FIP, 17 walks, 57 Ks, and a stingy .200/.279/.241 line against in his first nine games, eight starts, and 48 IP for the Padres after making his MLB debut early last season.
Overall, before he was dealt, Gore posted 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 innings pitched for San Diego before he landed on the IL with left elbow inflammation on July 25th, seven days ahead of the August 2nd trade deadline.
The southpaw made rehab starts at Triple-A Rochester in the Nationals’ system, but in the end his new club decided against bringing him up to pitch with the big league club in ‘22.
“MacKenzie — he’s had some success early, and I know he got hurt last year,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said early this spring, in talking about getting an opportunity to watch Gore up close in Spring Training.
“We got him. We chose not to pitch him anymore, even though he tried to come back, but knowing that he was able to throw at the end of the year and we were able to shut him down I think was good for him because he knew that he could go into the winter, get ready, get on his regular routine, and he came back a little bit stronger. Looks good. He’s thrown multiple bullpens already, he threw a live BP already, and the ball is coming out really well. So I’m excited to get him here this Spring Training and really get to work with him and see what he does throughout the whole year. Like I said, I know he’s had some success over in San Diego, but we get to have him here now for a full year healthy, and hopefully get him going.”
Martinez was asked what he’s be looking for this spring to let him know Gore was back to 100%.
“It’s more his mechanics,” Martinez said. “He cleaned up some stuff that we wanted him to do and it’s all about pounding the strike zone with him. When he does that he’s really, really effective. I mean, he’s got three, maybe four plus-plus pitches, and I saw a couple of them.
“He throws a slider, he throws a curveball, they are ... really sharp. And his fastball plays, and that’s the biggest thing, being able to control his fastball.”
A few days later, the manager talked with reporters again about seeing Gore’s mechanics in person during live BP, the leg kick, the deception, and everything else the southpaw’s doing on the mound.
“One, it’s part of who he is,” Martinez said of the lefty’s somewhat funky mechanics.
“Because it’s a little bit of deception. We got to make sure that he doesn’t get too quick, and gets out of his rhythm. Like when his head is going to the catcher, he’s good, but all of a sudden he gets too quick and the head flies and he opens up, that’s when you see all the misses, arm-side misses.
“So we’ve got to keep an eye on that and that’s something that he’s been focusing on this spring already.”
Though the manager did not get to see Gore in person last season, he said he saw plenty of video on the pitcher from his time the Padres and from Triple-A in the Nats’ system.
“We’ve seen a lot of stuff when he was really good in San Diego, we compare a lot of that stuff, and then we compare a lot of stuff on the analytical numbers that we get, and that kind of helps to tell us where he’s at, and what his ball is doing.”
Following the bullpens and live batting practice, Gore was lined up to start the Grapefruit League opener for his new ballclub this past Saturday.
“He’s ready,” Martinez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“He’s thrown multiple (live batting practice sessions against hitters), so he’s ready to go. I’m excited to watch him go out there and pitch.”
Coming into camp, Gore, who arrived in West Palm Beach a few weeks early and was raring to go for Spring Training as he said in an appearance on MASN’s Hot Stove show in January.
A highly-regarded prospect with the Padres and part of a big trade just last summer, Gore wanted to pitch with the Nationals last season, to get to know his new teammates, but he said he understood the decision to shut him down late last season, after his rehab starts, rather than bringing him up for an outing in the majors, and he didn’t feel the need to prove himself.
“We needed to be smart. I needed to be smart,” Gore explained.
“I knew why I had got to where I was, so I understood.”
And he stressed he doesn’t feel the need to justify the trade the Nats made to move Juan Soto (and Josh Bell) for the pitcher and four other highly-regarded young prospects (and a since-released Luke Voit).
“No extra pressure,” Gore said. “Look, we have a job to do, it’s about performing and I’ve had to perform, so that’s just kind of part of it.”
Having put in the work last season, over the winter, and early this spring, Gore told reporters in West Palm Beach, FL he was healthy and ready to go for the first game of the year.
“It just felt 100 percent,” Gore said of his health now, as quoted on MASNsports.com last week.
“I can kind of do everything on the mound that I need to do. It’s not dialed in right now, by any means, but my body’s strong. We should be ready to roll by the end of spring.”
In his debut for the Nationals on Saturday afternoon, Gore threw just 18 pitches total in one inning of work (as was the plan), 13 of them for strikes, mixing in his fastball (9 of 18 pitches, 95.3 MPH AVG), curveball (28%, 81.2 MPH), slider (17%, 89.5 MPH), and changeup (6%, 87.5 MPH), giving up one hit and striking out one batter in his Grapefruit League debut.
“I thought we were building off what we did in the (live batting practice sessions earlier this week). There are just some things that need to get better, but yeah, I thought it was pretty solid overall.”
Gore averaged 94.7 MPH on his fastball in the majors last season, throwing it 60.9% of the time, and said he was happy with his fastball, which he threw 50% of the time against the Cardinals, with his velocity sitting at 95 MPH and getting up to 96.3 MPH the first time out.
“I would say that’s good for right now,” Gore said, as quoted by MLB.com writer Jessica Camerato.
“I would like for it to keep ticking up a little bit. But, 95, 96, is good.”
His manager was happy with the outing too.
“One thing for sure is that his direction was clean, and we loved that,” Martinez said.
“We’ll go back, we’ll sit, we’ll watch it, we’ll talk to him about it. But he repeated his mechanics every pitch, which was great to see.”