Gore roughed up early in loss to Cubs (updated)

On the heels of an eye-opening, 10-strikeout dismantling of the Mets last week, and in the wake of Josiah Gray’s latest impressive start Sunday afternoon, MacKenzie Gore took the mound at Nationals Park tonight with a good chunk of those in attendance expecting another good start.

When it didn’t happen, it didn’t necessarily shock anyone. But it was disappointing nonetheless, which perhaps is as good an indication as anything how high Gore has set the bar in his first month pitching for this organization.

During a 5-1 loss to the Cubs, Gore lasted only three batters into the fifth inning. He allowed four runs, surrendered seven hits, walked two and threw a whopping 102 pitches.

"You don't expect him to get hit," first baseman Dominic Smith said. "You can't take away anything from (the Cubs). They played well tonight. But I still would take MacKenzie 10 out of 10 times. He knows what he can do. We know what he can do. He's going to make probably 25 more starts. I'm pretty sure he's going to be dialed in for all of those."

Though Smith did his part with three hits, the rest of the Nationals didn’t exactly provide a lot of support for their starter. They managed only six hits off Cubs left-hander Drew Smyly and too often made outs on three or fewer pitches, rarely giving Gore time to catch his breath in the dugout before re-taking the mound.

Gore’s short outing forced Davey Martinez to use three relievers, with Mason Thompson finishing the fifth and then Thaddeus Ward and the recently promoted Cory Abbott each going two innings. That takes Abbott out of consideration to start Wednesday’s game with Chad Kuhl now on the injured list with a right foot ailment.

"We're going to have to sit back and discuss some things here in a little bit, and tomorrow," Martinez said when asked about the pitching plan for the rest of the series.

Gore seemingly got this one off to a good start when he coaxed back-to-back ground balls out of Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson, then got weak contact (albeit for a seeing-eye single) out of Cody Bellinger and got ahead 0-2 in the count against Seiya Suzuki. But then it all fell apart. Bellinger stole second. Suzuki lined an RBI single to center. Trey Mancini drove an RBI double off the wall in left-center. And the Nats were down 2-0 while Gore threw 32 pitches in the first inning.

"We were in the zone. I felt like we threw strikes for the most part," he said. "But the off-speed was not as good tonight, so it made it where we didn't have as much to keep guys off balance."

The lefty still had his moments along the way, striking out a pair in the second and stranding runners in scoring position in the third and fourth. But he needed an excess number of pitches to do it, so by the time he took the mound for the fifth, Martinez already had Thompson warming in the bullpen.

Thompson would be summoned three batters later, but it was already too late. Gore surrendered a leadoff single to Hoerner, then grooved a fastball to Swanson, who belted it to left for his 13th career homer at Nationals Park (his first since leaving the Braves for the Cubs).

"This one wasn't awful," Gore said. "We just want a couple pitches back. But give credit to them: They fouled a lot of pitches off. They were tough outs."

Martinez strolled to the mound and asked for the ball from his starter, who needed 102 pitches to record only 12 outs in arguably his worst start of the season.

Even so, Gore never completely let the game get out of hand. And had his teammates provided a bit more run support, his start might’ve been viewed in a more positive light.

Alas, the Nationals never could get anything going against Smyly, the crafty veteran who carried a perfect game into the eighth inning two starts ago and had this lineup eating out of the palm of his hand all night.

Lane Thomas connected for a solo homer in the bottom of the second – his long-awaited first blast of the season after hitting 17 of them last year – and Luis García and Smith each singled and doubled. But nobody else could figure out Smyly and too frequently barely made him work. He threw only 84 pitches during his seven innings, displaying the kind of efficiency Gore could only dream of on this night.

"On the other side, the guy just throws strikes," Martinez said of Smyly. "Mixed all his pitches. Kept us off balance. We hit some balls good, but just couldn't get anything going."

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