Nats routed by Phillies after Gore departs early (updated)

PHILADELPHIA – The Nationals were riding high into Saturday’s late afternoon game against the Phillies.

One of their young starting pitchers tossed perhaps his best game as a major leaguer when Josiah Gray shoved for six innings of one-run ball in last night’s 2-1 win.

That set the Nats up today to win their third straight series and to do something they haven’t done since June 27-30, 2021: Have a winning streak longer than three games.

But that all came crashing down with today’s 19-4 thrashing by the Phillies, much to the delight of the 42,784 fans at Citizens Bank Park.

Score aside, the story of this one for the Nationals was MacKenize Gore’s early departure.

Trying to follow up Gray’s strong performance with one of his own, the young left-hander was shelled for seven runs on six hits and three walks while completing just 2 ⅔ innings. But the more concerning part of the sequence of events was his departure in the third inning with head athletic trainer Paul Lessard.

After an efficient, seven-pitch first inning in which he struck out Kyle Schwarber swinging at an 89 mph slider and Trea Turner looking at an outside 97 mph fastball, Gore fell apart, one hopes not literally.

In the second, he gave up a leadoff double to Bryce Harper, who came around to score and tie the game 1-1 on Alec Bohm's single up the middle. Then things really went off the rails in the third.

Back-to-back walks and a single to start the frame loaded the bases for Harper, who hit a double play ball to Dominic Smith. But after the first baseman threw to CJ Abrams at second, the shortstop looked in disbelief as no one was covering first. As a run scored and only one out was recorded, Smith was still where he was when he fielded the grounder, second baseman Luis García was still too far away to cover the bag and Gore was squatting in front of the mound as if in an admission of guilt.

“We went out there because he didn't cover first base," manager Davey Martinez said after the game. "I thought maybe he did something to his ankle. Once I got out there, I saw him shaking his hand. He's got like a little blister on his finger. So I wanted to take him out, get that taken a look at. But he says OK.”

That should have been one of the first signs Gore wasn’t in this one.

“The biggest thing is not getting over," Gore said. "We talk about doing little things right and that just can't happen. And then that kind of led to, instead of getting two outs there, we only got one. And there was a sac fly for that. A two-out sac fly would have been a lot different. So sometimes you get hit, but not getting over, that just can't happen.”

It continued to go downhill from there. J.T. Realmuto hit an RBI bloop single right over García’s head, Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly, Bohm hit a two-run home run and No. 9 hitter Cristian Pache hit an RBI double to make it 7-1. Gore’s last pitch to Pache was a 93 mph fastball, down from his average of 95. His velocity was actually down across the board throughout the day, another sign he was off.

“I just didn't execute," Gore said. "We were going in. I missed in a lot. And then got behind those guys and I just didn't execute pitches. So just got in bad counts. And it was just a big inning. I didn't do a good job of minimizing the damage. Just a tough one.”

So out came Martinez and Lessard to check on the lefty. On MASN’s video replay, Gore seemed to repeatedly tell them, “I’m all right.” But he departed toward the Nationals dugout with Lessard closely behind him, with the blister on his left middle finger.

“I just talked to him now," Martinez said. "He said he's fine. But we'll see. I want to go look at Paul. Paul hasn't really looked at him yet. So we'll see what's going on.”

“It's always kind of something I deal with," Gore said. "So yeah, I'm fine. It had nothing to do with what happened.”

Some relievers were already starting to get loose in the Nats bullpen, but perhaps it was some gamesmanship by Martinez to have Lessard check on Gore so Amos Willingham, who came on to replace the starter, had more time to warm up.

Regardless, Gore’s health is what’s most important, followed by his results. And of his results, he's most disturbed by not covering first base on that would-be double play.

“That's just one of those things that I can control and that has to be done no matter what's going on," he said. "You're going to get hit some at some point in this league. But that one stings a little bit.”

The rest of the game went just about as expected from there. Martinez mentioned last night that you don’t see a lot of 2-1 games in this ballpark with this Phillies lineup. And sure enough, they showed why.

After beating up on Gore, the Phillies lineup continued to mash, in the form of 11 hits, 12 runs and two walks against Willingham, Joe La Sorsa and Thaddeus Ward out of the Nationals bullpen. Jose A. Ferrer struck out two on 11 pitches in a scoreless sixth inning while making his major league debut, a small positive development on an otherwise ugly day.

“Can't get outs," Martinez said of his young bullpen. "We left some hittable balls over the plate. Just a rough day for the young guys. But Ferrer came in for the first time and did really well, so that's encouraging. He threw strikes, good changeup, had good movement on the fastball. So that was really good to see.”

“I was very, very surprised and I enjoyed it a lot," Ferrer said of his debut, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Get ahead with that first-pitch strike. That helped a lot.”

Most rookies are nervous during their debuts, but the 23-year-old said he wasn't.

“I guess because last year in the Futures Game, I did feel really nervous last year," he said. "And even my elbow hurt when I was warming up.”

One of the biggest culprits in the thumping the Nats took was Bohm, who recorded at least one RBI in his first four at-bats while finishing 4-for-5 (tying his career high of four hits in a game) with two home runs and six RBIs (also tying a career high of RBIs in a single game). Nick Castellanos finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs before being subbed out in the sixth. And Schwarber hit a grand slam off Ward in the bottom of the fifth for good measure.

Between the third and fifth innings, the Phillies sent 29 batters to the plate, scoring a combined 18 runs.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, the Nationals actually took an early lead in this one, thanks to Dominic Smith’s fourth homer of the season. In a 1-2 count, Smith took an inside 97 mph fastball from Phillies starter Zack Wheeler and actually hit it off his own face on the scoreboard in right field, 391 feet away.

The Nationals were able to put up three more runs to make it 11-4 in the fifth, thanks to Ildemaro Vargas (who also pitched a perfect eighth inning on seven pitches), Abrams, Lane Thomas and García, but it was far too little too late, especially once the Phillies dropped eight more in the bottom half of the inning.

All the Nats can do is flush this one and try to win the series tomorrow. But after an encouraging couple of days, this blowout loss has to feel pretty demoralizing.

“There's another one in five days," Gore said. "But understanding that there were some things I did today, that that's why the outing was the way it was. Just got to execute a little better. And then we'll make sure we get over from now.”

“We gotta forget about this one," Davey Martinez said. "We've been playing really well. Let's forget about this one and come back tomorrow. We got another tough opponent tomorrow in (Ranger) Suárez. Let's just come back tomorrow and go 1-0.”

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