Gore remains sharp, Irvin struggles in relief, Abrams homers

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – MacKenzie Gore isn’t quite established enough to ignore spring training results, but neither is he devoid of any track record and thus feels the need to make a statement when he takes the mound this time of year in Florida.

Gore is unquestionably part of the Nationals’ Opening Day rotation, perhaps someday in the near future the guy leading that rotation into a season. So these spring training outings are about two things: building his arm up and emerging healthy.

“I feel good, that’s the biggest thing,” the 25-year-old left-hander said this afternoon. “Not as sharp today, but it was good. We got into some situations and could see what we wanted to use. But I feel good, that’s really the most important thing.”

Oh, by the way, Gore was also successful in the results department, tossing three scoreless innings on 43 pitches during what became a 10-8 loss to the Astros.

Only two Houston batters reached base against Gore: Jake Meyers via a leadoff walk in the second, Grae Kessinger via a leadoff bloop single in the third. Neither advanced beyond first base, with Kessinger wiped out by an inning-ending double play in the third.

No, he wasn’t quite as sharp as he was during his spring debut Sunday against the Marlins, but Gore is off to a flying start in his second camp with the Nationals. His combined line across two starts: one run, three hits over five innings, with seven strikeouts, only one walk and 46 of 69 pitches thrown for strikes.

“When he’s around the zone, he doesn’t have to be perfect with his pitches,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He just has to be in that zone. He gets a lot of swings and misses. … This has been good all spring. He’s just got to get it in that box, and we’ll be in good shape.”

There’s still some fine-tuning to do, especially with his off-speed pitches. But as long as he continues to pitch every fifth day and add another inning to each start, Gore is going to enter the season exactly where the Nationals want him to be.

“Whatever happens, it happens,” he said. “I’m feeling good, getting stuff to where it needs to be. And we’ll be ready when the season comes around.”

* It has not been nearly as encouraging a start to the spring for Jake Irvin, who for the second time pitched in relief of Gore and for the second time had issues.

This one got ugly in a hurry for Irvin, who gave up five runs in the top of the sixth on three hits, two walks and an error by first baseman Lewin Díaz. He appeared on track to get through the seventh unscathed but then served up a two-out, two-run homer to Jacob Melton, leaving him to be pulled by Martinez having allowed seven runs (six earned) while throwing 50 pitches in only 1 2/3 innings.

“He was a little quick, flying open,” Martinez said of Irvin’s mechanics. “We’ve got to get him to relax a little bit. He’s working on a bunch of different secondary pitches. I’m going to sit down and talk to him: His next outing, just get the ball in the zone and work ahead.”

Irvin has only pitched in relief so far, but Martinez said the 27-year-old right-hander who made 24 big league starts last season will move into the rotation soon as he prepares for Opening Day.

* The day started off in fine fashion when CJ Abrams led off the bottom of the first with a homer, an opposite-field shot off an 0-2 pitch from Astros All-Star lefty Framber Valdez.

Abrams added an RBI single and a stolen base off Valdez in the bottom of the second and earned an early exit for his efforts.

“He’s staying on the ball really well,” Martinez said. “His BP, he's really been working on staying inside the baseball in batting practice. We know he can pull the ball, but that’s awesome. The home run was really nice, but the base hit up the middle to drive in a run was also really nice, too.”

* There was no big blast today, but James Wood still had another nice afternoon at the plate. The 21-year-old outfielder walked and singled off the bench to continue his torrid spring.

Wood has now taken 19 plate appearances and reached base 12 times: five singles, three homers, four walks. He has struck out only twice.

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