Gore sharp in final spring tune-up as big leaguers win Futures Game (Lipscomb to minors camp)

It was a fun day on South Capitol Street, as the Nationals played the first-ever “On Deck: Nationals Futures Game” for their final exhibition outing before starting the regular season Thursday in Cincinnati.

The Nationals’ major leaguers were set to play a team full of the organization’s top prospects, many of whom spent the majority of spring training in big league camp. There were smiles all around this morning as the youngsters prepped for the game in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, while the major league team got settled into the home locker room with bags packed for tomorrow’s early morning flight to Cincy.

But once the game started, the niceties between organizational teammates disappeared for the next 2 hours and 35 minutes as the major league team flexed its muscles while dominating the Futures Team 13-1 in front of an announced paid crowd of 10,294 at Nats Park.

“It was good,” said major league manager Davey Martinez. “We had some good at-bats. I thought we played really well. The key was to get some at-bats, see some pitches. We had a day off yesterday, but I saw some really good things. And the young kids, they stood up there and they weren't afraid. The guys that we had, they swung the bats well. Our kids got up there and they got their swings. So it was a good day.”

MacKenzie Gore set the tone early in his final tune-up before taking the ball Monday for the Nats’ home opener against the Pirates. Facing top prospects Robert Hassell III, Dylan Crews, James Wood and Trey Lipscomb, the left-hander recorded three strikeouts in the first frame while only surrendering an opposite-field double to Wood.

“I loved the at-bats,” Martinez said of the young prospects. “They stayed on the ball. They went the other way a couple of times. But there was no fear. And you can take that for what it’s worth. But I like to see that. They stood in there and they got their swings off.”

Gore came back to record two more strikeouts in the second before finishing with a total of seven in four shutout innings.

“Just kinda finish strong,” Gore said after his outing. “You want to be healthy, feeling good, and that’s what we did today.”

Darren Baker, Hassell and Crews were able to hit singles in the fourth, but Gore kept them from scoring while finishing his day at 65 pitches, 43 for strikes.

“They’re good players,” Gore said. “It’s a spring training start. But it’s cool for them. Cool to play against them; they’re good. But yeah, it was a spring training start. They’re gonna be good. They just need to keep getting better like everybody else up here and we’re gonna have some fun.”

Including these four scoreless innings, Gore finished this exhibition season with a 4.66 ERA and 1.293 WHIP, which are both inflated by a rough outing to finish Grapefruit League play. If you take out that March 17 start against the Mets in which he gave up nine hits and eight runs in 4 ⅔ innings, his spring ERA is 1.23 and WHIP is 0.955.

“MacKenzie again is still working on his changeup a little bit,” Martinez said. “He wanted to throw it a little bit more and it was good. As we all know, his fastball is electric. His breaking ball was good. He threw it (in a couple 3-2 counts) for strikes and it was really good.”

The major leaguers were restless after a long camp, and unfortunately, they had nowhere else to focus their competitive energy except against their prospect teammates. They proved the major leaguers are still major leaguers and the prospects are still prospects.

“We’re competitive,” Gore said. “We get tired of playing games that don’t matter. But take advantage of the time to get ready.”

Up next for Gore: The home opener against the Pirates.

“Looking forward to it,” the southpaw said. “It’s kinda one of those things you don’t want to look ahead too far when you have another outing in spring and do what you need to do so your body feels good. But now that we finished, just trying to get ready for Pittsburgh and see what happens.”

Now with the exhibition season over, the Nationals are on to Cincinnati.

“We’re ready. Guys are ready,” Gore said. “They went and did what everybody wanted to do, working on things and getting this where they needed shape-wise. Everybody looks good and we’re looking forward to it.”

“Getting through spring training, your biggest fear is making sure everybody’s healthy,” Martinez said. “We came out pretty good in that. … It was a good day. Now we get to do it for real come Thursday, so we’re excited about that.”

* The final roster competition in camp came down to the second base job between Luis García Jr. and Lipscomb. And although only so much can be taken away from an exhibition game against your own team, it came to a close today.

After the game, the Nats officially transferred Lipscomb to minor league camp, giving García the everyday second baseman’s job. The move also means Rule 5 pick Nasim Nuñez will make the Opening Day roster.

García finished the Futures Game 3-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI, while Lipscomb went 0-for-2 with a throwing error first while trying to make a spectacular play at shortstop.

The competition became closer than many thought coming into camp, with García making a handful of mistakes in the field while Lipscomb was playing clean baseball. But the veteran infielder – who is only one month older than his prospect counterpart – finished camp strong to secure his Opening Day roster spot.

“He had a very good second half,” Martinez said of García. “He was talked to about where his position (in the organization) is and what he needs to do. Like I said earlier, this is four years for him. He needs to play … I watch him and there are these bright spots when he comes out. And there are some days where he;s just not all there. Those days need to go away now. And I’m hoping he understands that.

“We’re on him every day. … We want him to be the player he can be and we’re gonna stay on him. I love the kid. And he could be a really good player. I know that. But we’re gonna push him. We’re gonna push him to show up every day, show up every pitch, make the plays and have good, consistent at-bats.”

Despite Lipscomb hitting .400 with a .995 OPS in Grapefruit League play, it’s not too surprising this was the route the Nationals chose. They want Lipscomb to play every day, which he will now do in the minor leagues. Lipscomb can also be easily sent down to the minors, whereas García, who is out of options, would have to be exposed to waivers first and Nuñez would have to be offered back to the Marlins before being sent down.

The Nationals also selected the contract of right-handed reliever Derek Law and placed Cade Cavalli on the 60-day injured list (recovering from Tommy John surgery) to make room on the 40-man roster. Cavalli is expected to be ready at some point in June.

The Opening Day roster won’t be officially announced until Thursday morning in Cincinnati.

* Some other notes from the Futures Team’s performance with thoughts from Martinez …

Jackson Rutledge started the day strong on the mound by striking out Lane Thomas and Jesse Winker looking in the first. But he gave up his first run in the second, and the outing snowballed from there.

After being removed with no outs in the fourth, he came back out to start the fifth and only recorded one more out. His final line was not pretty: 3 ⅔ innings, 14 hits, 12 runs, one walk, two strikeouts and a leadoff home run to Eddie Rosario in the fourth. The big right-hander threw 74 pitches, 46 for strikes.

“He was around the zone. He fell behind a little bit. Like I said, we worked good at-bats. But this is good for him as well. Now he’s gonna go down to Triple-A and just continue to work on some things and be ready. Last year was an anomaly with what we did and we’re gonna need some starting pitching. He’s gonna be one of the guys we call upon.”

Daylen Lile enjoyed a nice return to game action. The outfield prospect drew a walk in his first plate appearance in an actual game situation since his scary injury when he flipped over the outfield wall and landed flat on his back in the bullpen at JetBlue Park on March 2. He would ground out in his next plate appearance.

T.J. White, the former outfield prospect turned first baseman, hit a leadoff homer off Trevor Williams to center field in the seventh and then singled off him in the ninth. White finished 2-for-4 with the run and RBI from the longball.

“Loved it. We talked a lot with him about staying in the middle of the field and not trying to do too much. He’s got power, so I think the big thing with him is moving the baseball, putting the ball in play. When he hits it, he’s gonna hit it hard. But he’s gotta understand what pitches he wants to hit, what pitches he wants to swing at, and he’s done a lot better with that. So I expect big things from him. He can really hit the ball, but he’s gotta make sure he stays in the zone.”

Cristhian Vaquero singled off Williams to lead off the eighth inning. Elijah Green drew a two-out walk in the ninth.

DJ Herz, the lefty acquired in the Jeimer Candelario trade with the Cubs last summer, pitched two scoreless innings of one-hit ball with strikeouts of Alex Call and Victor Robles.

“Good. He’s got good stuff. His fastball is sneaky. But his changeup is really effective. Another guy that needs to work on his breaking ball and throw it for strikes when he can. So once he gets that done, he’s another guy that we have that we think could help us here.”

Jarlin Susana was one strike away from an immaculate inning and had to settle for a perfect eighth with two strikeouts, one of which came on a 102.4 mph fastball to Joey Gallo. Jacob Young fouled off the right-hander’s ninth pitch to end the immaculate bid.

Susana’s fastball was sitting at 101 mph and he also threw a good amount of sliders sitting at 88 mph.

“Strikes, strikes and strikes. I loved it, yeah. He’s gonna be good. You gotta remember how young he is. I liked the fact that he went out there, he had good composure and he threw strikes. It was great.”

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