Gore not as sharp, but taking positives away from second spring start

gore padres

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Every time MacKenzie Gore steps on the mound in a Nationals uniform – whether during spring training or the regular season, home or away – he’s going to draw a lot of attention.

Comes with the territory of being included in one of the biggest trades in major league history.

After throwing 18 pitches (13 strikes) in one inning during his debut on Saturday, the 24-year-old left-hander was scheduled to go two frames and 35-40 pitches in this afternoon’s game against the Marlins, which resulted in a 5-5 tie in front of 1,819 fans at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in a seemingly long 2 hours and 42 minutes.

Although not as sharp as he was his first time out, Gore was able to hit his target for the day by throwing 34 pitches, 23 strikes, in two innings.

“It wasn't quite as good as I thought we've been through camp so far,” Gore said. “But we got in two innings and there were some good things. But I didn't think it was quite as good as we had been up to this point.”

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Kieboom returns to game action, Martinez maps out pitching plans

kieboom dugout fives gray

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – On March 18, 2022, the day of the Nationals’ first game of a shortened spring training due to the lockout, Carter Kieboom felt something wrong in his throwing arm during pregame warmups. He was scratched from the starting lineup, had an MRI the following day and was placed on the 60-day injured list two days later with a right forearm flexor mass/ulnar collateral ligament strain. About two months later, he underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his fourth big league season before it even started.

Today, about a year later, Kieboom is back in the Nationals lineup for the first time this spring, batting ninth as the designated hitter in a game against the Marlins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Although his return to game action is a significant step in his recovery, the Nationals are still taking a slow and cautious approach with the third baseman.

“We just want to give him some at-bats,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Like I said, we're going to kind of ease into this thing with him, so he gets to DH and get him some at-bats and get him going.”

Kieboom has been fine swinging the bat in camp. It’s throwing that still remains a work in progress. But any sort of game action, even just hitting as the DH, will be helpful.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Marlins in West Palm Beach


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – After making the 3 1/2-hour trek to Tampa yesterday for what resulted in a 4-2 walk-off loss to the Yankees, the Nationals return to Florida’s Atlantic side for the first of their next five games taking place in the greater West Palm Beach area.

Those in attendance today at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches will get their first look at MacKenzie Gore in a Nats home uniform after he made his debut on Saturday against the Cardinals in Jupiter. The young southpaw allowed just one hit with one strikeout and threw 18 pitches (13 strikes) to four batters in a scoreless inning that afternoon. Today, he’ll go a little deeper into the game, pitching multiple innings for the first time.

They’ll also get the first look at Carter Kieboom in live game action in about a year since needing Tommy John surgery. He’s batting ninth as the designated hitter.

The Nationals have a handful of regulars in today’s lineup, including Lane Thomas, Corey Dickerson, Jeimer Candelario, Dominic Smith, Keibert Ruiz and Victor Robles. The relievers expected to follow Gore out of the bullpen include Paolo Espino, Thaddeus Ward, Mason Thompson and Hunter Harvey.

Where: The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: None
Radio: MLB.com (Marlins broadcast)
Weather: Sunny, 84 degrees, wind 12 mph out to left field

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Dickerson eyeing top of lineup while taking veteran approach to spring

Corey Dickerson

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – With more than nine years of major league service time, Corey Dickerson is by far one of the most experienced players at Nationals spring training, behind only Stephen Strasburg (who remains in D.C. after a setback in his recovery from thoracic outlet surgery over the offseason) and Patrick Corbin.

He is used to the grind of a six-week camp and 162-game season. He is even used to Grapefruit League play, having spent the last three spring trainings 15 minutes up the road with the Marlins and Cardinals in Jupiter and the previous four springs on the Gulf Coast side of the state with the Rays and Pirates.

All of that experience has allowed Dickerson to be one of the few players taking a veteran approach to his first spring training in West Palm Beach after signing a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Nationals in January.

“It's just a normal spring for me, it feels like,” Dickerson said of his adjustment to his new team so far in camp. “Played with a few guys, know a few guys, but it's been really easy adjusting and just going about my business. Putting in the work every day and guys have been great.

“Just work. Make sure I get quality work in every single day. Kinda be locked into details, really hone in on the fundamentals, try to get fundamentally sound before the season. I think if I do that all the big things take care of themselves.”

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Finnegan not concerned about specific role in Nats bullpen

Kyle Finnegan throw gray Mothers Day cap

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Kyle Finnegan has come a long way in three seasons with the Nationals since signing a major league contract as a minor league free agent in December 2019.

The 31-year-old went from unknown rookie who flashed impressive stuff in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season to trusted reliever who fizzled out late in 2021 to de facto closer in his first complete major league season in 2022.

Now entering his fourth season with the club, the right-hander isn’t too concerned about his role in the Nationals bullpen. He just knows he’ll make most of his appearances in the later innings.

“Back end of the bullpen, which you know is up for hot hand-type situations,” Finnegan said of his role this season. “I was told I'll get some chances back there, but we also have so many good guys that we can play matchups a little bit and bring guys in in different situations. So I think kind of building off last year, we've got a lot of guys that are feeling confident and having success. Having too many guys is always a good thing.”

Too many guys is a good thing, especially when the inevitable injury bug hits that part of the roster, as was the case last year when Sean Doolittle and Tanner Rainey went down in the first couple of months with season-ending injuries.

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Davey Martinez remembers a meaningful gesture from the late Ted Lerner

Ted Lerner Davey Martinez

While all the excitement surrounding the start of a new season is down in West Palm Beach, hearts remain heavy in D.C. for the late Ted Lerner, the Nationals’ founding principal owner who passed away at the age of 97 on Monday.

The stories of how Lerner’s life was entrenched in Washington baseball have been told numerous times over the past few days. How he was born on the same day the Senators lost Game 7 of the 1925 World Series, and how he grew up to become an usher at old Griffith Stadium. How he purchased the Nationals in 2006, one year after the franchise moved to D.C. from Montreal. And how he built the team into a perennial contender that claimed four National League East division titles before winning the NL Wild Card Game, the NL pennant on his 94th birthday and the World Series two weeks later in 2019.

The team, general manager Mike Rizzo and Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred have all released statements filled with condolences and kind words about the late Nats owner.

“Mr. Lerner was an irreplaceable presence whose passing leaves a profound void in the Washington Nationals family,” Rizzo said in his statement. “He was truly one of a kind.

“Those of us who had the privilege of working for Mr. Lerner observed a brilliant business mind and a uniquely thoughtful form of analysis. His confident, systematic approach to challenges provided me a life-long lesson in persistence and perseverance. His influence on me was immeasurable and I will always be grateful for the opportunities he afforded the entire Nationals organization.

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For Martinez, new season is about "opportunity"

martinez w ipad dugout

With the official start of spring training yesterday, as Nationals pitchers and catchers reported to West Palm Beach and had their first workout on the back fields of The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, come the traditional pleasantries of a new season.

How was your offseason? What are you working on this spring? What are your goals for the season?

Aside from announcing the news of Stephen Strasburg’s setback, manager Davey Martinez answered most of these questions with an enthusiastic energy yesterday during his first meeting with the media members who are in Florida, while others, myself included, tuned in over Zoom.

“It was really good,” Martinez said after Day 1 of camp. “For me, honestly, it feels like Day 25 because a lot of guys have been here early. Very enthusiastic. Their work ethic has been really, really good for a few weeks, even though today was Day 1. Seeing everybody together, getting everybody in The Circle of Trust, talking to them guys, a lot of energy today, which was awesome. It was a lot of fun. Getting to meet the new guys and talk to them face-to-face was pretty awesome as well.”

Martinez was also very clear about his theme for this spring and the upcoming season: opportunity.

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Gray ready to compete in young rotation

Josiah Gray throws white

Pitchers and catchers don’t have to officially report to the Nationals’ facility in West Palm Beach until Tuesday. But it’s not uncommon to see guys start arriving a week or so early.

Josiah Gray is among those already down there getting ready for the start of camp. He joined “The Hot Stove Show” last week over Zoom from his back patio under cover from the sun after getting Florida license plates for his car.

Even professional athletes can’t avoid the pain of a trip to the DMV. A necessary evil to save the hassle for future spring trainings.

This will be Gray’s second spring training in West Palm Beach after coming over to the Nats in the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in July 2021. And this time he’ll be looking to become one of the top pitchers in the starting rotation.

While a lot of focus will be on the Nats’ top prospects entering the second full season of this rebuild, attention will still be paid to the young players at the major league level to see how their development progresses, Gray included.

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Doolittle and Dolan remain committed to D.C. now and in the future


When Sean Doolittle was traded to the Nationals on July 16, 2017, it was for sure a major change in his career. He was going from the last-place Athletics to the first-place Nats.

What he probably didn’t know at the time was that it was a major life change for him and his soon-to-be wife, Eireann Dolan.

Doolittle brought a lot of value to the Nationals in that trade with the Athletics in that he was under team control for three more seasons after the 2017 campaign ended. After recording a 2.40 ERA and 21 saves to help the Nats win the National League East in 2017, he pitched to a 3.20 ERA and 1.047 WHIP while striking out 132 and walking just 25 with 54 saves over the next three seasons.

Of course, he helped the Nationals win the 2019 World Series, and he was given the Good Guy Award as voted on by members of the local media in each of his first three full seasons with the club.

This offseason, he added some new hardware to his mantle. Doolittle and Dolan were both included in a group of 11 locals who were named Washingtonians of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine in December. It’s an annual honor the publication awards to people “who make our region an even better place.”

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Nats continue expansion of player development staff


While numerous outlets are releasing their latest top prospects rankings leading up to the start of spring training, it’s easy to keep track of how the Nationals farm system is improving on paper. But a lot of work needs to continue throughout this rebuild behind the scenes. Improvements under the surface that won’t show up in any prospect rankings.

The Nationals announced on Wednesday their minor league player development staff for the 2023 season. The roster includes some familiar faces, new names and new positions. Overseeing all of it are president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo, entering this 15th season as the head man, and director of player development De Jon Watson, entering his second season in this position after spending five seasons as a special assistant to the GM.

The familiar names include Matt LeCroy (Triple-A Rochester), Mario Lisson (High-A Wilmington) and Jake Lowery (Single-A Fredericksburg) returning to manage their respective affiliates. Field coordinator Bob Henley, pitching coordinator Sam Narron and catching coordinator Randy Knorr continue their long careers with the organization. And fan favorite Gerardo Parra enters his first full season as special assistant to Rizzo after being named to the position last year.

A lot of new names are taking over the staff at Double-A Harrisburg, headlined by manager Delino DeShields replacing Tripp Keister, who was fired this offseason after 11 years with the organization. A first-round pick by the Expos in the 1987 draft, DeShields joins the Nats after spending the last 14 seasons in various roles in the Reds organization. Joel Hanrahan also joins Harrisburg as the pitching coach after flipping spots with Justin Lord, who now holds the same position at Fredericksburg.

Among the new roles added to the player development department this year are an assistant director of player development technology and strategy (Patrick Coghlan), a player development analyst (Allen Ho), a senior biomechanist (Bill Johnson), a biomechanist (Brittany Mills) and a performance analyst at each minor league affiliate. The performance analysts will help use data from the Hawk-Eye machines tracking players at Nationals Park, all of the organization's minor league stadiums and their facility in West Palm Beach.

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Bogar affirms that Nats value versatility


The writing has been on the wall all offseason. Baseball has changed over recent years, and the Nationals have committed to adapting to it.

Versatility is the name of the game.

Gone are the days managers would trot out the same eight defenders in their same designated positions along with a starting pitcher expected to go seven or eight innings every day over the course of a 162-game season.

Now it’s all about getting more bang for your buck. Can a player fill multiple roles? Can he play all over the infield, or both the infield and the outfield? Can a fringe starting pitcher also be a swing man out of the bullpen?

Find a way to keep your best players fresh and on the field as much as possible based on what the matchups dictate.

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Coles believes Meneses' late success is sustainable

meneses swing white

Joey Meneses took the Nationals and the major leagues by storm over the season’s final two months last year. The 30-year-old rookie had spent 10 years in the minors, Mexican and Japanese professional leagues before having his contract selected by the Nationals and making his major league debut on Aug. 2 against the Mets.

Not many people knew who Meneses was when he was introduced as the starting first baseman batting sixth that night at Nationals Park. Most fans were still lamenting over the trade that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres earlier that day.

But Meneses made sure Nats fans knew who he was by the end of the game, hitting a leadoff home run in the bottom of the seventh to secure a 5-1 win over the first-place Mets. With that longball, he became the first Mexican-born player and the fifth-oldest player in major league history to homer in his major league debut.

And he never looked back.

From that point on, Meneses was second in the National League with 72 hits, a .324 average and a .930 OPS. He was tied for fourth in the league with 13 home runs and tied for fifth with 27 extra-base hits.

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More on Nats' newest international class


With the international signing period opening on Sunday, the Nationals agreed to terms with 14 amateur free agents.

A lot was made of the inclusion of Elian Soto, the younger brother of former Nationals superstar outfielder Juan Soto who flipped his intention to sign with the Mets a year ago just months before his older brother was traded to the Padres.

But the younger Soto, who also hits from the left side and was interestingly labeled as an outfielder in the Nats’ official release after also playing third base last year, is just one player. And quite frankly, he is not as highly regarded as his brother and fellow signees of this class.

So let’s take a look at three other players the Nationals signed over the weekend who are highly thought of in this last group of international signings.

Manuel Cabrera is a 16-year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic who reportedly signed for $500,000 and is MLB Pipeline’s No. 39 ranked prospect in this class. Scouting reports say he has the defensive abilities, including a strong arm, to play any position in the infield and has the bat speed and strength from the right side of the plate to have an upside to hit at the top of the lineup. He’s also been praised for his baseball IQ.

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Elian Soto headlines Nats' latest international signings

Elian Soto headlines Nats' latest international signings

The international signing period officially opened this morning, an avenue the Nationals have been traditionally successful in using to acquire young talent.

To open the 2023 signing period, the Nationals announced they have agreed to terms with 14 international free agents: right-handers Jose Feliz, Leuris Portorreal and Enyerber Riveo; left-hander Juan Reyes; catcher Agustin Marcano; infielders Manuel Cabrera, Eikel Joaquin and Edwin Solano; and outfielders Andy Acevedo, Carlos Batista, Hector Liriano, Juan Obispo, Elian Soto and Carlos Tavares.

Elian Soto is Juan Soto’s younger brother who made headlines this time last year when he reportedly flipped his intention to sign with the Mets to the Nats. That became official today as he reportedly agreed to a deal worth a $225,000 signing bonus and an additional $200,000 for a scholarship grant. Last summer’s trade with the Padres seemingly did not have an impact on the younger Soto’s feelings toward signing with the Nationals organization.

Like his brother, Elian demonstrates power from the left side of the plate while playing third base and the outfield. Also like Juan, Elian is represented by super agent Scott Boras, who just negotiated a $23 million salary for the 24-year-old superstar this season with the Padres through the arbitration process.

But unlike his brother, Elian is not considered a top prospect in this class.

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Dickerson out to prove he can still play


Corey Dickerson is the latest veteran to sign with the Nationals. And he brings the most experience.

While Jeimer Candelario (29 years old), Trevor Williams (30) and Dominic Smith (27) have played seven, seven and six major league seasons, respectively, Dickerson, 33, is entering his 11th season in the bigs, now with his eighth different club.

Unlike the Nats’ other three major league signings this offseason, Dickerson isn’t looking to kickstart his career for the long run with a fresh start on a new team. He’s more out to show that he can still play.

A former All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner, Dickerson, who has spent time with the Rockies, Rays, Pirates, Phillies, Marlins, Blue Jays and Cardinals, says he still has something to prove to the baseball world.

“That I'm a good baseball player,” Dickerson said when asked what he wants to prove this year. He spoke via Zoom with reporters after signing a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Nats on Tuesday. “That I can do more than just one thing. I think I can still hit for power. A lot of people have written me off with that. … I still think I can hit for power, I can do many things well.”

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Smith looking forward to "fresh start" in Washington

Dominic Smith Mets gray

Rebuilding teams and reeling veterans are perfect matches for each other. Bring experience and leadership to a young clubhouse while playing every day to rejuvenate your career while the team develops prospects.

It’s often a mutually beneficial relationship.

The Nationals are certainly banking on that being true as this is how they’ve filled holes on their roster with three of their major league signings so far this offseason.

Jeimer Candelario, signed to a one-year deal in November, was non-tendered by the Tigers after six seasons. Trevor Williams, signed to a two-year deal last month, entered free agency knowing his role with the Mets was limited, either in the rotation or bullpen.

And Dominic Smith, who signed a one-year deal this week, was looking for a fresh start after being non-tendered by the Mets.

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Important candidates wishing to bounce back from injury

rainey throws white

It's Christmas morning, and all who celebrate are rushing to see if their holiday wishes were placed under the tree.

For the Nationals, that could have been any number of things coming off a 107-loss year.

But like every major league team over the course of a 162-game season, the Nationals dealt with their fair share of injuries this year.

In fact, they placed 24 different players on the injured list for 25 different stints, with Stephen Strasburg landing on the 10-day IL at the start of the season while recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome, and then on the 60-day IL with a stress reaction in his ribs after his lone start in June.

Those 24 players combined to miss 1,778 games for the Nationals in 2022. So like many, the Nats may be wishing for better health in 2023.

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Looking back at the Josh Bell trade

bell celebrates hr cherry

Two years ago today, the Nationals made a surprise acquisition that created a busier Christmas Eve than we were expecting in the D.C. area. General manager Mike Rizzo was able to send two minor league pitchers to the Pirates for All-Star first baseman Josh Bell.

While the timing was surprising, the acquisition itself was not. The Nationals had made the first baseman a potential trade target for a while, with the expectation at the time being he would get a majority of the starts at first while Ryan Zimmerman would be the backup if he returned for his 17th campaign after sitting out the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Rizzo won praise for the early Christmas present to Nats fans in acquiring a power bat to provide protection for Juan Soto and Trea Turner in the lineup with two years left of team control and without giving up any top prospects. At the time, the Nats’ most coveted prospects were Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge, Carter Kieboom and Yasel Antuna.

Only Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean were required to bring Bell to Washington. At the time, Crowe was 26 years old and the Nats’ No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and Yean was 19 and the club’s No. 6 prospect.

Crowe had made his major league debut that summer, posting an 11.88 ERA and 2.640 WHIP in 8 ⅓ innings over his three starts. A second-round pick in 2017 out of South Carolina, the right-hander was expected to compete as a rotation depth piece the following spring.

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Downs adds needed infield depth with potential for high upside


The Nationals’ latest waiver claim was noteworthy in that it was a well known name that was surprisingly available.

Jeter Downs, whom the Nats claimed on outright waivers from the Red Sox yesterday, is known for being a former top shortstop prospect and being included in two major trades since the Reds made him the No. 32 overall pick in the 2017 draft.

He was grouped with Homer Bailey and Josiah Gray – the latter now his Nationals teammate – in a Dec. 21, 2018 trade to the Dodgers for Kyle Farmer, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood. Then on Feb. 10, 2020, he was famously included in the package with Alex Verdugo and Connor Wong that went to the Red Sox for Mookie Betts and David Price.

A central piece in two major trades and a highly rated prospect before turning 22 years old, Downs was, surprisingly, exposed to waivers when the Red Sox designated him for assignment last week after signing outfielder Masataka Yoshida. But of course, there’s a reason for that. His struggles in the Red Sox system and during his brief stint in the majors forced Boston to give up on the now 24-year-old.

Now, almost four years to the day since his trade to Los Angeles, Downs joins a Nationals organization where he is reunited with fellow former Dodgers prospects Gray and Keibert Ruiz. And he brings much-needed infield depth, whether he’s on the major league roster or in the minor league system.

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Nats claim infielder Jeter Downs from Red Sox

Jeter Downs Red Sox swing white

Just three days before Christmas, general manager Mike Rizzo remains busy checking things off his list.

The Nationals announced this afternoon they have claimed infielder Jeter Downs on outright waivers from the Red Sox. Downs was designated for assignment last week when the Red Sox signed outfielder Masataka Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million contract.

Downs, 24, was born in San Andrés, Colombia, where his father was a professional baseball player. He was named after Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and ironically would go on to record his first major league hit and RBI then score the game-winning run against the Yankees and hit his first big league home run at Yankee Stadium this season.

He was a 2017 first-round pick (32nd overall) by the Reds out of Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Fla. He has since been traded twice, first with current Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray and Homer Bailey to the Dodgers in exchange for Kyle Farmer, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and cash in December 2018. But Downs is probably most known for being a central piece in the package along with Alex Verdugo and Connor Wong to go to Boston in the Mookie Betts and David Price trade in February 2020.

Primarily a shortstop, Downs was considered a top prospect around the sport. He was the Red Sox’s No. 1 and No. 2 prospect in 2020 and 2021, respectively, and was ranked as high as the No. 44 prospect in baseball two years ago, per MLB Pipeline.

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