WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Every time MacKenzie Gore steps on the mound in a Nationals uniform – whether during spring training or the regular season, home or away – he’s going to draw a lot of attention.
Comes with the territory of being included in one of the biggest trades in major league history.
After throwing 18 pitches (13 strikes) in one inning during his debut on Saturday, the 24-year-old left-hander was scheduled to go two frames and 35-40 pitches in this afternoon’s game against the Marlins, which resulted in a 5-5 tie in front of 1,819 fans at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in a seemingly long 2 hours and 42 minutes.
Although not as sharp as he was his first time out, Gore was able to hit his target for the day by throwing 34 pitches, 23 strikes, in two innings.
“It wasn't quite as good as I thought we've been through camp so far,” Gore said. “But we got in two innings and there were some good things. But I didn't think it was quite as good as we had been up to this point.”
He threw 16 pitches, 12 strikes, in the first, striking out Garrett Cooper looking in between base hits by Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García. Lane Thomas, who has made a couple of great throws in right field this spring, bailed his starting pitcher out of the inning by throwing García out trying to stretch his hit into a double.
The second inning wasn’t as effective for Gore. After two quick groundouts on five pitches, Jesús Sánchez doubled, Garrett Hampson walked and Alex De Goti hit an RBI single to put the Marlins on top 1-0.
“Some bad counts. A few good sliders, but stuff wasn't quite as good,” Gore said. “Some locational, some fastballs that were kind of out over the plate. I know some hits, they kind of hit where we were not. But we had a lot of baserunners. I think we threw like 34-ish pitches, so that was good. We're still throwing a lot of strikes.”
After inducing a flyout to get out of the inning, Gore had completed the frame in 18 pitches, 11 strikes, to finish his outing with four hits, one walk and one strikeout.
“He wasn't as sharp, but he wasn't bad either,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I'm sure he beat himself up because he's a perfectionist. He didn't throw that bad. So for me, when he got behind today, at least he came back and pumped strikes. But he understands he's got to be more efficient, more in the strike zone. But overall, I thought he was OK. A few days ago, he was way better. Today he was fine.”
Gore’s next start will come after Monday’s off-day, possibly against these very Marlins on Tuesday in Jupiter.
Offensively, the Nationals saw a sequence they hope repeats often this season. After Carter Kieboom was hit by a pitch leading off the bottom of the third in his first major league plate appearance since Oct. 3, 2021, and Thomas singled to right, Jeimer Candelario hit a two-run double off the center field wall to give the Nats a 2-1 lead.
Candelario led the majors with 42 doubles in 2021 on his way to recording a career-high 67 RBIs. He would come around to score on Dominic Smith’s infield single and error by Cooper at first base.
“That's who he is,” Martinez said of Candelario. “I talked a lot in the winter about him. He could roll off 40, 50 doubles a year, so that's what we want him to do. And then the power will come.”
As for Kieboom, his first game action in 17 months was a bit anticlimactic. He was hit by the fourth pitch in his first plate appearance, struck out looking at an inside fastball on the fifth offering of his second at-bat and drew a full-count walk and stole second base in his third appearance. But he was caught off the bag during a popup to shallow right field for a 4-6 double play to end the seventh inning. In his fourth plate appearance, he struck out with a check swing on the fifth pitch with two outs and two runners in scoring position.
“He worked good at-bats,” Martinez said. “First day in a long time, so I'm sure he was excited. It's good to see him back out there.”
Meanwhile, the Nationals continue to look significantly better defensively. Aside from Thomas’ throw in the first, second baseman Michael Chavis made a smooth sliding grab and throw to rob Bryan De La Cruz of a leadoff single up the middle, his second such play of the spring. Smith continued to suggest he may be the Nats’ best defensive first baseman in a while with two nifty plays to record outs in the second and third innings. And Jeter Downs flashed his athleticism at shortstop during his six innings of work.
“I think we played really, really well defensively,” the skipper said. “Our guys really did, so that was a lot of fun to watch them do that. … We're gonna be a lot better defensively, so I'm excited about that.”
Out of the bullpen, Jose Ferrer, Thaddeus Ward, Anthony Banda and Matt Cronin pitched scoreless frames. Paolo Espino, making his second appearance of the spring, served up a towering home run to Soler on his first pitch of the sixth. Hunter Harvey, in his second game, surrendered a single, a walk and an RBI single while just recording two outs in the seventh as the Marlins tied the game at 3-3. Mason Thompson recorded a strikeout to end the bases-loaded threat, but then surrendered two runs in the eighth.
Right fielder Travis Blakenhorn cut the Marlins’ two-run lead in half with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the inning. Then an infield chopper from Jake Alu, who already had another hit today, scored Leonel Valera from third to tie the game at 5-5. The play at the plate led to a pretty big collision and Valera was on the ground for a bit before walking off on his own.
Valera told Martinez afterwards he hit his hip but felt fine.