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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats avoid sweep with 4-1 win over Astros in extras...

Notes and quotes from the Nationals and Astros’ series finale in Minute Maid Park...

Gore vs the ‘Stros:

MacKenzie Gore gave up two, two-run home runs in the second inning of his five-inning, 82-pitch outing last week in Atlanta.

Gore gave up five runs total in the start, but he wrapped things up with 10-straight outs.

“We had just one bad inning again, right?” manager Davey Martinez said in assessing Gore’s 13th start this season, in which he extended an eight-start winless streak (0-4, 4.71 ERA, 4.70 FIP, .287/.335/.521 line against in 42 IP).

“But what I loved was the fact that MacKenzie came back out there and retired 10 in a row with [39] pitches. I mean that’s kind of what we’re looking for. If we can keep him right there, it’s good. And all it was was really a conversation about being on the offensive, not afraid of throwing strikes, get ahead of hitters. And he did that, and was really, really good. So I was proud of him for doing that.”

“Just did a better job of executing,” Gore said, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco, when asked about ending his outing with 10-straight outs.

Washington Nationals v Houston Astros Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

“The homers were just not great pitches and in spots those guys like to hit. So I have to be better. I keep saying that, but I just got to be a little better.

“Yeah, we finished strong and on to the next one.”

The next one was last night’s outing in the series finale with the Astros. Gore started things out with three scoreless on 57 pitches, working around two hits and two walks, striking out two batters, and keeping the home team off the board early.

Gore picked Kyle Tucker off first one out after Tucker’s leadoff single, and he got out No. 3 on a groundout to end a 15-pitch fourth which left him at 72 total.

He was up to 85 pitches after a quick, 1-2-3 bottom of the fifth, and he got two outs in the home-half of the sixth, but gave up a leadoff single and one-out walk before recording the second out, and with the lefty at 95 pitches, his manager went to the bullpen...

MacKenzie Gore’s Line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 Ks, 95 P, 51 S, 7/2 GO/FO.

“MacKenzie kept the ball down,” Martinez said after what ended up a 4-1 win.

“That’s something that we talked to him about. He fell behind a little bit, we had a lot of 3-2 counts, but when we needed him to make a pitch he made it tonight, and that was good.”

“When I took him out, we talked a little bit, he said he felt a little bit off with his mechanics, so we’ll get him back out there in a few days, and get him in the bullpen, and see if we can straighten him out a little bit.”

“It wasn’t the prettiest outing that we’ve seen, but zeroes play,” Gore told reporters in his own post game comments.

“Just kind of one of those days where I wasn’t great, but went out there and got as many outs as I could.”


• Corey Dickerson singled to start the top of the second, but he ended up getting picked off trying to steal second base. Keibert Ruiz and Dominic Smith both singled off of Astros’ right-hander Cristian Javier in back-to-back at-bats with one out, but Stone Garrett K’d swinging a batter later, and CJ Abrams sent a fly to center to end the threat. 0 for 2 with RISP.

• Those were the only runners the Nationals put into scoring position through six innings, as Javier held the visiting team to five hits total in six scoreless.

• Mason Thompson took over for MacKenzie Gore with two on and two out in the Astros’ half of the sixth, and the hard-throwing righty got up 0-2 on José Abreu, and he painted the low, inside corner for a called third strike to keep it 0-0 through six.

• With Hector Neris on for the Astros in the top of the eighth, Lane Thomas bounced a one-out double off the Crawford Boxes, giving Luis García just the third at-bat of the game with runners in scoring position, but he grounded out to first base. Thomas took third base, and Jeimer Candelario battled back from 1-2 to draw a walk and give Corey Dickerson a shot at driving in the first run for either team, but he grounded out to end the threat, 0 for 4 with RISP.

• Stone Garrett got a bad read on a one-out liner to left-center by Chas McCormick in the Astros’ half of the eighth inning, and McCormick stole second off Kyle Finnegan and Nats’ catcher Keibert Ruiz after the single, but back-to-back Ks for Finnegan kept it 0-0.

• Talking about approaching Astros’ closer Ryan Pressly, after the second of three in Minute Maid Park this week, Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked about needing to know how any pitcher likes to attack hitters going into an at-bat.

“Pressly throws a lot of breaking balls, especially to lefties,” Martinez said. “You might have to look for a breaking ball.”

Keibert Ruiz, batting from the left side against the right-hander, got a breaking ball, and he hit the seventh pitch he saw, a 2-2 slider low in the zone inside, out to right field, for a 389-foot shot and the first run of the game for either team, 1-0. Ruiz’s 8th of 2023.

Davey Martinez on Ruiz’s at-bat and game overall after the win:

“It was big, big. Great at-bat by him right there. Stayed on a breaking ball, and the way he hit it, man, it was a line drive and that’s awesome, and then he comes up again and stays inside of the ball and stays in the middle of the field, and knocks in another big run for us, so what a good day. And I thought he did a great job catching as well, I mean, he had control of the game all game, and our pitching staff kept us right there.”

• Hunter Harvey came on to close it out in the bottom of the ninth, and fell behind 3-1 and gave up a leadoff double to right field by Kyle Tucker.

Harvey struck José Abreu out, swinging, on a 99.5 MPH 2-2 fastball up high. Jeremy Peña grounded out to third for out No. 2. Pinch hitter Yanier Diaz got hold of a 2-2 fastball and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single, 1-1.

It went to extras...

• Ildemaro Vargas’s groundout moved the Manfred man (CJ Abrams) over to third base, and Lane Thomas singled to center to drive in the free runner, 2-1 Nationals. Luis García singled next, and right-hander Phil Maton hit the next batter, Jeimer Candelario, loading the bases, and a four-pitch walk to Corey Dickerson forced in run No. 3, 3-1. Keibert Ruiz singled too, 4-1.

• Carl Edwards, Jr. tried to make the three-run lead hold up and retired three straight to end it. Final Score: 4-1 Nationals to avoid the sweep.

“We fought. We fought,” Davey Martinez said after the series-salvaging win. “We still left some — a lot of — guys on base, but we got big hits and big walks when we needed them and the end of the game was a lot of fun. We got on base. I can’t say enough about the pinch hit by [Ildemaro] Vargas. We knew this guy was going to throw breaking balls. We asked him just to try to get the guy over.

“I didn’t want to bunt right there, and he did a great job of getting the guy to third and then we opened it up a little bit.

“But it’s just a good win. Feeling good about going back home, we got a long plane ride, and get to play tomorrow night.”

BACKPAGE - Meneses Gets A Breather:

Joey Meneses played in 63 of the Nationals’ first 66 games, missing a couple for the birth of a child, and sitting out one other one, but most days this season he’s been the DH, and his manager decided with a tough schedule ahead it made sense to give the 30-year-old a day off last night.

“Just a day off for Joey. He’s been our everyday DH, so I want to give him a little day. We get in late tonight, I want to get him fresh, but he’s available to pinch hit today, but I wanted to get him off his feet a little bit,” Davey Martinez explained.

Going into the series finale in Houston, Meneses had reached base in 28 of 31 games, with a .333/.393/.447 line, nine doubles, one triple, one home run, 22 RBIs, 12 walks, and a total of 17 runs scored during the stretch, which left him with a .297/.341/.386 line overall for the ‘23 season. It would seem he’s starting to get comfortable in the DH role after struggling to get used to it early this season.

Washington Nationals v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

“He’s definitely getting better,” Martinez told reporters in Minute Maid Park. “He’s starting to understand what he needs to do in-between innings, how he wants to approach things. I’ve seen a big difference from him when he started the season as the DH and knowing what to do. He seems a lot more calmer in the dugout in-between [at-bats] and not all over the map.

“He watches video, he watches the guys he’s going to face. And he’s giving us good at-bats. So it’s nice to see him make adjustments and try to get better at it.”

The sixth-year skipper said he’s keeping a close eye on all his players as the weather heats up and they navigate a tough stretch in the schedule with odd start times coming up over the next few weeks.

“I’m looking at everything with all these guys right now,” Martinez explained, “... because we go home, we’re going to get home late, we got a night game tomorrow, we got a day game the next day, day game the next day, day game the next day, so it’s going to take us a little bit. So, I’m going to try to figure out how to get some of these guys days off this weekend, and keep these guys strong. We still got a long way to go. We got to understand that a lot of our kids — CJ [Abrams] for example — he’s played I don’t know how many games, but he hasn’t played a full season really yet. So we got to be mindful of that. Luis [García], we got to be mindful of that.

“So we’re going to kind of try to figure out when we can give these guys day off.”