Gore has "weird" start; Rutledge in latest round of cuts

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spring training pitching lines can be deceptive. What really matters in March: How many runs somebody allowed or how many batters he struck out?

MacKenzie Gore and the Nationals were left asking themselves that question today after a Grapefruit League start the left-hander referred to as “a little weird.”

What made it weird?

“Well,” Gore said, “we struck out 10 and gave up eight runs.”

Yeah, that qualifies. Over the course of  4 2/3 innings against the Mets in what wound up a 9-8 victory, Gore experienced the full gamut of results. He opened his afternoon in dominant fashion, striking out seven of the first 11 batters he faced, effectively locating all of his pitches. Then he closed his afternoon by allowing 10 of the last 15 batters he faced to reach base, eight via hit.

“I felt the stuff was pretty good the whole way through,” he said. “It got a little weird, but the stuff was good. It was hot. We held the velo. We just gave up a lot of hits.”

Gore pushed his pitch count up to 96, and his fastball velocity remained in the 96-98 mph range through the end of the outing, so that was encouraging. With one more start down here to go, he’ll be plenty prepared for the regular season from a health standpoint.

Now, the Nats just want him to start cleaning some things up and treat his final exhibition start like a real one.

“He said he was trying to mix some pitches, get the shape and everything,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But I told him: ‘Next time out, you’ve just got to hone in on who you are. We’ve got to get that pitch count down.’ His stuff is so good, I hate to look up there and see 90 pitches in the fifth inning. But what I loved was the ball was electric.”

How unusual was Gore’s performance today? There have been only three major league pitchers who have struck out 10 while allowing eight runs in a regular season game over the last two decades: The Dodgers’ Michael Grove last year, the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole in 2021 and the Brewers’ Zack Greinke in 2011.

“I know he loves striking out guys,” Martinez said. “And that’s nice. But I need you to go out there and pitch 6-7 innings, get 21 outs. He understands that.”

* The Nationals made another round of cuts following today’s game. Right-hander Jackson Rutledge was optioned to Triple-A Rochester, while non-roster invitees Darren Baker, Lewin Díaz, Robert Gsellman, Brady Lindsly and Luis Perdomo were reassigned to minor league camp.

Rutledge, who made the first four starts of his major league career last September, looks to be the first starter called up from the minors when the Nats need rotation help this year.

“He did well,” Martinez said. “We view him as a guy that’s potentially going to come up here and help us. But he needs to get on a routine, he needs to get going and we need to get him ready.”

Gsellman and Perdomo were among a host of relievers trying to win jobs on minor league deals. In the end, they are headed down while Matt Barnes, Derek Law, Richard Bleier, Jacob Barnes and Joe La Sorsa remain in the competition.

Baker, hoping to make his big league debut sometime this season, went 4-for-13 with a stolen base in his first major league camp. Diáz, who has played 112 games for the Marlins, went 6-for-26 with two homers but faced long odds with Joey Gallo and Joey Meneses already in line to play first base. Lindsly, a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft, will get more playing time behind the plate after splitting last season between Rochester and Double-A Harrisburg.

Today’s moves leave the Nationals with 39 healthy players remaining, with one week to go before the team heads north. Of note: The organization’s top prospects (James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House, Trey Lipscomb) remain in camp, even though playing time is beginning to dwindle for them as veterans start playing more innings each day.

“I like watching them play, I’m not going to lie to you,” Martinez said. “And I want to keep them here, keep the conversations going as long as I possibly can. They’re doing well, and they’re playing the game the right way. We’ll keep them here as long as (general manager Mike Rizzo) allows me to keep them, and then we’ll do something else.”

* Kyle Finnegan hasn’t pitched in five days due to a stiff back, Martinez revealed this morning.

The Nats closer last appeared Tuesday, striking out both Mets batters he faced. He has allowed only two batters to reach against him in 4 2/3 scoreless Grapefruit League innings this spring.

With the team off Tuesday, Martinez suggested Finnegan will return to the mound the following night against the Cardinals.

“We’re just trying to get that to calm down a little bit,” the manager said. “I am going to keep him out until after the day off, and then he’ll come back and pitch. I talked to him today, he said he feels way better. We’re just going to be very cautious.”

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