Gore about ready to face live hitters in simulated game

NEW YORK – MacKenzie Gore’s path toward pitching for the Nationals before season’s end became clearer today when the rehabbing left-hander took what should be his final step before he’s cleared to face live hitters.

Gore threw a bullpen session this afternoon at Citi Field, the third time he’s thrown off a mound as he returns from elbow inflammation. Provided he emerges from this latest session with no setbacks, he’ll now be slated to pitch a simulated game against teammates next week in St. Louis, according to manager Davey Martinez.

That 50-pitch simulated game would offer Gore his first opportunity to face live hitters since his July 25 outing for the Padres, after which he was placed on the 15-day injured list with elbow inflammation. The Nationals acquired the 23-year-old in last month’s Juan Soto-Josh Bell blockbuster and inherited his rehab program.

All along, the club’s intention has been to get Gore ready to pitch in a major league game before season’s end.

“Our goal, if everything goes well, is to get him to start a game here and see how he feels after that,” Martinez said. “Hopefully everything goes well, and we know when wintertime comes, he could just go on his regular program and get ready for spring training.”

One of the sport’s highest-rated pitching prospects entering the season, Gore enjoyed a dominant first half for San Diego, owner of a 1.50 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings through his first nine starts. But he labored in three of his next five outings, then briefly was moved to the bullpen to take some strain off his arm before the Padres ultimately placed him on the 15-day IL.

Gore has made significant progress in his rehab since coming to the Nationals in the trade, and he’s stressed his desire to make it back to pitch sometime in September. That’s a plan the club is on board with, barring any setbacks along the way.

“He’s another young guy that we have that’s very competitive,” Martinez said. “He’s anxious to get on the mound and pitch. Watching him throw, even though he’s not throwing 100 percent yet, he’s got some good stuff. I’m looking forward to getting him out there, but we’re going to be smart about it. If he’s completely healthy, he’ll get a chance to pitch this year.”

* The Nationals still have some rotation decisions to make as they embark on a 10-game road trip, with no off-days until they return home Sept. 12.

Josiah Gray starts tonight after having his last turn skipped as the organization seeks to control his workload late in his first full big league season. Patrick Corbin is slated to start Saturday night against former teammate Max Scherzer (who will be seeking his 200th career win), with Erick Fedde taking the mound for Sunday’s series finale.

The team hasn’t announced any pitching plans beyond that, with a four-game series in St. Louis set to begin Monday. The Nats could stick with veterans Aníbal Sánchez and Paolo Espino on normal rest, or they could insert Cory Abbott into the rotation at some point.

Abbott, who was recalled from Triple-A Rochester after Cade Cavalli went on the 15-day IL with right shoulder inflammation, has been available out of the bullpen since joining the staff but has yet to appear in a game.

“We’ll keep him in the bullpen for another day or two,” Martinez said of Abbott. “And then we’ll re-evaluate after this series what our starting rotation’s going to be.”

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