MacKenzie Gore gave up one run on two hits in five innings against the Chicago Cubs in his first start of the second half, but he went back out for the sixth, and gave up two more, and allowed two in the seventh on one of two home runs he allowed when his manager sent the southpaw back out to the hill.
Gore tied his season-high with his 106 pitches in the outing.
“We were hoping to get him to about 105-110 pitches,” manager Davey Martinez said of his plan for the Nationals’ starter in the outing in Wrigley Field.
“He was throwing the ball well. And I still think — when I took him out, he still had a little bit left in the tank.”
Washington’s 24-year-old lefty walked two and struck out six in the start, earning the W in what ended up a 7-5 win.
“He pitched really well,” Martinez said. “He had one inning where he fell behind some hitters but he was able to get out of it. And then he came back and gave us what we needed.”
“If you get into the seventh, you’re doing some things right,” Gore said, as quoted by MASN writer Mark Zuckerman. “But that’s why this game is tough. You’ve got to make one pitch at a time. And if you make a bad one, they hit homers.”
His manager thought Gore made just one bad one in Chicago.
“‘You made one mistake, you know, other than that you pitched really, really well, so let’s focus on the positive that you did and not so much the negatives,’” Martinez said of the advice he had for Gore going into the series finale with the San Francisco Giants in D.C. Sunday afternoon.
“And he likes to go back and look at all the negatives that he’s done, but he’s done so good.
“He’s making strides every time he goes out there, so today, I just want him to go out there and pound the strike zone, get ahead of hitters, like he did his last outing, and finish hitters off.
“It’s about efficiency with him, you know, getting through the game and keeping his pitch count down. And the high-leverage situations, just make sure it doesn’t blow up on him.”
Gore worked around a leadoff single and one-out walk in a 20-pitch opening frame in the finale with the Giants, with a double play to end the inning, and he stranded a two-out free pass in a 20-pitch second, completing two scoreless but not necessarily efficient innings.
MacKenzie Gore, Dirty 89mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/L0Nre8ADCX— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 23, 2023
He worked around a two-out double in a 16-pitch third, and took the mound in the fourth up 3-0, but gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning. Two Ks and a fly to right followed, however, and the left-hander stranded both runners in another 16-pitch inning, after which he was up to 72 total in four scoreless.
MacKenzie Gore, Vicious 90mph Back Foot Slider.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 23, 2023
4th K thru 3 pic.twitter.com/7gil5Shume
Two Ks and a nice play by Dom Smith on a pop fly he caught as he ran into the railing of the home dugout got Gore through his fifth scoreless frame, at 90 pitches total, and the starter didn’t come back out for the sixth, with the score 6-0 in the Nats’ favor at that point...
MacKenzie Gore’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks, 90 P, 56 S 3/1 GO/FO.
MACK— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 23, 2023
'cause he's throwing cheese pic.twitter.com/mwDnt7sBEd
Gore piled up 19 swinging strikes in the outing (7 w/ his fastball, 6 w/ his curve, 5 w/ his slider, and 1 on his changeup), and collected 12 called strikes, 9 on his four-seamer.
The key, according to his manager, was Gore’s ability to work his way out of the jams he found himself in.
“The ability to fall behind, stay in the at-bat, and get to that next pitch and put guys out. He did it well today,” Martinez said. “His pitch count was up there a little bit and I didn’t want to push him any more than we did after the last outing he had, so he did really well. He fought, he made some good pitches when he needed to and he was really good. His stuff is really good, he’s got to get the ball over the plate, and today he did well.”
• Lane Thomas and Joey Meneses hit one- and two-out singles off of Giants’ opener Scott Alexander in the bottom of the first inning, (with Thomas stealing second before Meneses’s hit), and Stone Garrett walked to load the bases against new pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, who gave up a two-run single to right field by Dom Smith on an 0-1 changeup low and in, 2-0 Nationals after one.
• Thomas singled to lead off the Nationals’ half of the third, stole second (his second stolen base of the game), and then third, setting Garrett up with an RBI opportunity he cashed in with an RBI double to center on a 1-2 sinker over the middle of the plate from DeSclafani, 3-0.
POST GAME - Davey Martinez on Lane Thomas’s big day:
“Oh, man, I told him today, I said, ‘You’re a five-tool player. You did it all, so good for you.’ Man, outstanding. He was all in. He’s been that way all year, really. He’s played really hard all year for us.”
• Riley Adams and Luis García hit back-to-back singles off DeSclafani to start the Nationals’ half of the fourth, with Adams taking third on García’s hit, but Alex Call popped out to third unproductively for out No. 1. CJ Abrams hit a fly to right which was deep enough to get his relatively slow-footed catcher in from third for a 4-0 lead. Thomas doubled to drive in a fifth run, scoring García, then he stole his 4th bag of the game to advance to third, but he was stranded there.
Save a run, add a run.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 23, 2023
It’s the Lane Thomas guarantee pic.twitter.com/DT2iTWAH10
• Riley Adams made it a 6-0 lead with a 2-out solo shot on a 2-0 curve inside from the right-handed pitcher, connecting for his 4th of the season in limited action. 103.3 MPH off of the bat. 348 ft. shot.
A little Sunday afternoon gardening? Don't mind if we do. pic.twitter.com/lFnZUD7Zy7— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 23, 2023
Jordan Weems tossed a scoreless frame after taking over for MacKenzie Gore, but the bid for a combined shutout ended when Amos Willingham gave up a leadoff home run by Joc Pederson in the top of the seventh, 6-1 Nationals.
Mason Thompson got the eighth, and tossed a scoreless frame before Joe La Soras handled the ninth for the home team. Final Score: SWEEEEEP!!! 6-1.
BACK PAGE - Sweep Nothings:
“With a win today, the Nationals would secure their first series sweep of the season and their first sweep since June 14-16, 2021 vs. Pittsburgh,” the club highlighted in their pre-game notes for the third of three with the Giants in Washington, D.C., and they added it would be the first sweep of San Francisco since the magic season in 2019, when the ‘19 World Series champions took a series on the road. You’d have to go back to 2015 to get their last sweep of the Giants in the nation’s capital.
Please don’t tell me you thought Mr. 1-0 Today was going to bite on sweep talk before the game. I said don’t tell me that. He was asked about the possibility though. Was it on their minds going into the game?
“Nah,” Martinez told reporters. “Like I said, we try to be where our feet are. Try to go about our business, go 1-0 today. What I can tell you is these guys will come out today and they’ll compete. They’ll play hard.
“If everything aligns, we’ll come out, we’ll win, and it’s just another victory for us.”
Everything did align for the Nationals, and they ended their sweep-less streak.
“This weekend we played like I thought we’d play throughout,” Martinez said after the game.
“With a lot of energy, it was a lot of fun. It was a great weekend for us. So I was proud of the boys. You saw us go first to the third, you saw us turn double plays when we needed to, make some good plays, steal some bases, get big outs. Everybody was on point. So it was a fun weekend.”
CJ Abrams on Fire:
With a home run on Saturday (his 10th this season), CJ Abrams extended an on-base streak to 11-straight games (with hits in 10 of 11) since moving to the leadoff spot in the Nationals’ lineup.
Abrams was 19 for 46 in the 11 games (.413/.449/.674), taking him from .233/.281/.393 on July 6th up to .259/.306/.434 on the year. He was, of course, heating up before manager Davey Martinez moved the 22-year-old shortstop to the top of the order.
“He is hitting .361 with a .410 on-base percentage (5 BB, 3 HBP), a .588 slugging percentage (6 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR) and is 13-for-13 in stolen base attempts over his last 26 games,” as his club noted in their pregame notes for Sunday’s series finale with the Giants in Nationals Park.
Abrams was 16 for 16 in stolen base attempts going back to May 3rd.
The decision to move him up top, his manager said, was about seeing the young infielder making strides in his development.
“Before the season we talked about the chase rate, just him getting on base,” Martinez said this past weekend.
“We had our battles a little bit with him about staying on top of the baseball, just hitting the ball hard, getting good, consistent swings every at-bat, and then you could tell he started gradually getting it, and then I thought it was time [to move him up].
“Time to kind of get him up there, and put the onus on him, and like I said, he’s taken it to heart, and he’s playing really well for us.”
Martinez talked at length about what his charge has been doing well as Abrams has taken off in the past weeks.
“He’s not trying to do too much,” the manager said. “He’s trying to stay in the middle of the field. He’s trying to get on base for his teammates. I talk a lot about leading off, about being that catalyst for eight other guys behind you, and he’s doing it right now and I love it. He’s playing with a lot of energy, really focused on just trying to hit balls in the zone. And playing defense really well.”
“I mean, when he gets on,” Martinez continued, “I told him, ‘Any time you hit a single, it’s a double. And he’s running, he’s doing all the little things we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it really well.”
The sixth-year skipper reiterated many of the points above after Abrams hit his 10th home run in Saturday’s win.
“He’s getting better,” Martinez said. “Every day he’s getting better. What I like is he’s playing consistent baseball. Not just hitting. But playing good defense. Running the bases well. He’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do and he’s playing really well.”