Gore faces live hitters, on track to begin rehab assignment

ST. LOUIS – It was a far cry from an actual major league game, and it was far from perfect from a performance standpoint, but MacKenzie Gore’s simulated game this afternoon at Busch Stadium represented an important step in a rehab process the left-hander believes will conclude with his Nationals debut before season’s end.

“Big step in the right direction,” he said. “I felt good. It wasn’t perfect, by any means. But I felt good, and definitely moving in the right direction.”

Gore, who was acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade while on the 15-day injured list with left elbow inflammation, threw 37 pitches over two simulated innings today. He worked with Tres Barrera behind the plate, facing teammates Josh Palacios, Riley Adams and Alex Call.

This was the first time the 23-year-old faced live hitters since July 25, when he departed the Padres’ game in Detroit after only 33 pitches and reported elbow soreness. He landed on the IL shortly after that, and a week later was one of six players dealt to the Nats for Soto and Bell.

Gore has been rehabbing with the big league club since, getting comfortable with the Nationals’ medical and coaching staffs. He threw three times off a bullpen mound leading up to today’s outing. The plan moving forward: He’s scheduled to throw another bullpen session Friday in Washington, and if everything goes well, he’ll be sent out on a minor league rehab assignment.

“If there’s no soreness or minimal soreness, and he goes and throws his bullpen and he feels good, then we’ll crank him up a little bit more,” manager Davey Martinez said.

Gore admittedly wasn’t as sharp with his pitches today as he’d like to be when appearing in an actual game, but he wasn’t necessarily surprised by that.

“I like the way I felt,” he said. “Everything just wasn’t great today, which is probably how it was going to be the first time back out. There was a lot of good today, though.”

With only four weeks remaining in the season, there isn’t a whole lot of time for Gore to build his arm back up and make it back to pitch. Assuming he’ll need to make at least two rehab starts, he may only be able to start once or twice for the Nationals in late September.

Even if that’s all he does, though, Gore believes it’s worth it to go into the offseason confident he’s healthy again.

“Yeah. Also, I’m here to pitch,” he said. “It’s my job to get ready to go back out there and pitch. Obviously, we don’t want to rush it and do anything that could affect us going into next year. But if I feel good, it’s my job to pitch.”

Given that mindset, it hasn’t been easy for Gore to stay patient throughout this entire process. He understands, though, it’s necessary.

“He wants to pitch,” Martinez said. “He wants to get back on the mound. He told me today he’s ready to go, but I told him, 'We got this far, let’s continue to build up and stick to the process, and we’ll get you there as soon as we deem you’re ready.' But he’s itching to go.”

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