Gore beats himself up after rough spring start

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spring training numbers mean as much or as little as you want them to, but here are the numbers now for MacKenzie Gore through five Grapefruit League starts: 11 earned runs, 21 hits, three homers, six walks, nine strikeouts in 14 innings. That’s a 7.07 ERA and 1.929 WHIP.

Whether it portends real struggles when the season begins in two weeks or not, Gore isn’t satisfied with his own performance to date.

“The line at some point is saying something,” the Nationals left-hander said. “But we’re just going to keep working. I just need to pitch a little better.”

Gore needed to pitch a lot better Friday afternoon during his latest (and worst) outing of the spring. He did not enjoy one clean inning among the four he pitched. He surrendered four runs during a long third inning that required 34 pitches to complete. He served up home runs to the Astros’ Jeremy Peña in consecutive innings. All told, he was charged with five runs on nine hits and two walks, while throwing only 49 of his 82 pitches for strikes.

And, as has become clear over the last several weeks, Gore found plenty of reasons to be upset with himself for another showing that fell below his standards.

“You don’t want to give up four or six (runs), but it’s more being behind in the count, things like that,” he said. “We’re capable of getting ahead in the count and getting people out. But I’m just not doing a very good job of that right now. … It is spring training, but I do need to pitch a little better.”

Davey Martinez won’t argue with that assessment, but the Nationals manager does have some issue with the manner in which Gore keeps beating himself up over his struggles.

Martinez appreciates a 24-year-old pitcher with an intense competitive drive, but he also believes it can go too far and become detrimental to his success.

“Honestly, we’ve got to get him to stop,” Martinez said. “You’ve got to go out there and just compete. We’ve got to get him back into just competing and not being so critical about every pitch he (throws). We’ve got to get him to relax a little bit. He’s really good, and he’s going to get better. But he’s got to understand: Just get to the next pitch and focus on getting outs.”

Martinez, like everyone else with the Nationals, is still getting to know Gore this spring. He joined the club last August as one of the big pieces to the Juan Soto blockbuster trade with the Padres, but he spent the rest of the season rehabbing from elbow inflammation and didn’t make it all the way back to pitch in a big league game in time.

So this spring has provided the first real opportunity for Gore to show everyone how he works, and for the coaching staff to understand how he ticks. It remains a work in progress.

This week’s crushing news of Cade Cavalli needing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament only made things worse. There already was a bright spotlight on Gore as one of the key young cornerstones for the Nationals’ rebuild. Now it’s squarely on his shoulders with Cavalli out for the season.

“First thing is, thoughts and prayers to Cade. He’s a great guy, great teammate,” Gore said. “And he was pitching great. As bad as it is, it is a part of the game. He’s going to be fine. He’s got good people who support him.

“I think there’s probably been a time this spring where I put too much pressure on myself before this. I’ve just got control what I can control, and good things will happen. We’ve got some guys that are going to step up, and we’re going to still pitch. But that’s a tough blow. He’s really good, and he’s been fun to watch this spring.”

For what it’s worth, Gore struggled late last spring as well. After tossing five scoreless innings in his first two games, he allowed six runs over his final seven innings.

But when the red light turned on for real, Gore rose to the occasion. Over his first nine big league starts for San Diego, he went 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA. Things devolved after that as his elbow began to act up.

“I think the last couple outings were not great of spring last year,” he recalled. “So maybe that’s what we’re rolling with here.”

The Nationals sure hope so.

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