Gore avoids big inning, Barnes has strong debut, Lipscomb triples

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – An admitted perfectionist, MacKenzie Gore is the kind of guy who tends to get caught up with the things he didn’t do well on a particular night and forget about the things he did do well.

So it was appropriate to wonder tonight if the Nationals left-hander might be hung up on the ragged top of the fourth he experienced against the Mets instead of focusing on the top of the first, second, third, fifth and sixth innings, all of which went splendidly for him.

The good news: Gore was in a much better mood than you might have surmised based on his history.

“It was good,” he said. “Look, the stuff, we’re going in the right direction.”

Gore was quite good tonight, tossing 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball and setting the tone on a night the Nats pitching staff combined to two-hit the Mets in a 4-1 exhibition victory. He retired the first nine batters he faced on a scant 32 pitches. He became not only the first member of the staff to complete five innings this spring but re-took the mound for the top of the sixth because his pitch count was so low.

His fastball registered 96-97 mph, maintaining its velocity through the end of the start. And he did all of this against a New York lineup that included Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso and Starling Marte.

“I think the stuff’s good,” he said. “I think it’s moving the right way. Now, just keep executing at a higher level each start is the plan.”

Gore’s only hiccup came during the aforementioned top of the fourth, when he surrendered a leadoff single to Nimmo, then later walked three straight batters to force in a run. Grunting louder with each errant pitch through that sequence, he spewed an expletive audible to anyone in attendance after spiking a 3-2 breaking ball to Marte with the bases loaded.

“We haven’t necessarily pitched out of the stretch much, and it’s different than the windup delivery-wise,” he said. “So I just wasn’t good, and it didn’t feel good. And it obviously didn’t look good. But that’s what spring training is for.”

It was the kind of series of events that plagued Gore on occasion last season and often resulted in blowup innings that ruined promising starts. His response this time? He got Jose Iglesias to ground into an inning-ending double play, ultimately allowing only the one run to score before returning to notch five more outs before his work was done for the night.

“Last year if that would’ve happened, the wheels probably would’ve fell off,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Today, I watched him and I watched his demeanor. … He kept his composure, and he got us out of that inning.”

* Gore was hardly the only Nationals pitcher to enjoy success tonight. The four relievers who followed him were even more effective, with Joe La Sorsa, Matt Barnes, Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan combining to retire all 10 batters they faced.

Barnes was making his spring debut, two weeks after signing a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp. The 33-year-old former Red Sox closer, who struggled last season with the Marlins due to a hip injury that required surgery, induced two ground balls and a fly ball and threw only 12 pitches during a perfect top of the seventh, his fastball velocity registering 90-91 mph.

“He threw strikes,” Martinez said. “Mixed his pitches up. His velo is a little down, but his fastball plays, because he knows where to throw it, and the last two feet of his fastball has a little giddy-up on it. I thought it was a good first outing for him.”

* The Nationals scored three of their four runs in the bottom of the sixth. Joey Gallo, who entered 1-for-17 with 11 strikeouts, notched his second single of the night. Nick Senzel followed with an RBI single of his own. Then prospect Trey Lipscomb, getting the start at second base alongside the usual regulars, ripped a two-run triple to right-center to complete the rally.

Lipscomb is now batting .370 (10-for-27) with three walks and three strikeouts this spring.

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