Gore primed to lead Nats rotation, if he's healthy again


Age on opening day 2023: 24

How acquired: Traded from Padres with CJ Abrams, Luke Voit, Robert Hassell III, James Wood and Jarlin Susana for Juan Soto and Josh Bell, August 2022

MLB service time: 1 year

2022 salary: $700,000

Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2025, free agent in 2028

2022 stats (SD): 4-4, 4.50 ERA, 16 G, 13 GS, 0 CG, 70 IP, 66 H, 35 R, 35 ER, 7 HR, 37 BB, 72 SO, 4 HBP, 1.471 WHIP, 83 ERA+, 4.11 FIP, 0.8 fWAR, 0.3 bWAR

Quotable: “He wanted to show us why we traded for him. But I told him: ‘We already know why we traded for you. Our job is to get you healthy and get you ready for next year now. You’re going to pitch a lot for us. Don’t worry about what I think of you. I think highly of you, and I think you’re going to have a really good career for us.’ ” – Davey Martinez

2022 analysis: MacKenzie Gore entered the season as one of the top-rated pitching prospects in baseball, and the Padres didn’t hesitate to thrust him into their rotation when Blake Snell went on the injured list in early April. The rookie left-hander certainly responded as if he was ready for the assignment: Over the first nine outings of his major league career, he went 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA, 1.063 WHIP and 57 strikeouts across 48 innings pitched.

But things went downhill, and fast, for Gore early in the summer. Over a stretch of seven outings in June and July, he went 0-3 with an 11.05 ERA, 2.364 WHIP and only 15 strikeouts across 22 innings pitched. What was the noticeable difference during that stretch? His fastball velocity dropped from 95-96 mph in every one of his first nine appearances to 93-94 mph in each of his final seven games.

The Padres placed Gore on the 15-day injured list with left elbow inflammation on July 26. One week later, he was among the five prized prospects the Nationals acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to win-now San Diego. The Nats knew Gore would need some time to rehab but hoped he’d be ready to make his club debut sometime in September. In the end, he made four rehab starts for Triple-A Rochester, building up to four innings and 72 pitches thrown. Rather than activate him off the IL to make one token big league start in the season’s final weeks, the Nationals decided to shut Gore down and let him begin his offseason program.

2023 outlook: The Nationals have lofty expectations for Gore, and for good reason. He remains one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and his pre-injury results prior to the trade provide evidence he can be a frontline starter in the majors. But we haven’t actually seen any of that in a Nats uniform yet, and until we do, we can’t know for certain what he’s going to be for them.

By all accounts, Gore was healthy at season’s end. His biggest issue was a loss of stamina, which didn’t allow him to sustain velocity or effectiveness for more than a couple of innings. The belief is that a full, normal offseason program followed by a full, normal spring training will make a significant difference and allow him to open the 2023 season in top form.

If he regains his mid-to-upper 90s fastball velocity to go along with a slider-curveball pairing and an occasional changeup the Nationals surely will want him to throw more regularly, Gore has the ability to lead the rotation in 2023. As with all young starters, they’ll monitor his workload and be cautious about extending him too far in his first full major league season. But there’s genuine optimism about the potential of a rotation anchored by Gore and Cade Cavalli. All those two young hurlers need to do now is actually start every five days for the Nationals.

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