JUPITER, Fla. – When discussing MacKenzie Gore this morning, Davey Martinez called his starting pitcher a “perfectionist.”
That was slightly evident after Gore came out of his last start on Thursday a little disappointed in the results. He wasn’t as sharp as he would have liked.
It was even more evident after Gore finished what was, in his eyes, a second straight underwhelming outing.
Gore threw 34 pitches, 23 strikes, in two innings against the Marlins last week. Facing the same squad today to start a 5-3 win in front of 2,271 fans in Jupiter, he completed three innings on 35 pitches, 23 strikes.
The sharpness wasn’t there from the beginning, bothering the lefty. Facing Jon Berti to start the bottom of the first, Gore threw four pitches outside the strike zone to begin his outing with a four-pitch walk.
“Yeah, that's beautiful,” Gore sarcastically said of the leadoff walk outside the visiting clubhouse at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
“We got through three and 35 pitches, which is good. But we got some work to do.”
While hard on himself, Gore wasn't really helped by the Nationals defense either. CJ Abrams, who of course joined Gore in coming to Washington as part of the blockbuster Juan Soto trade, dropped a picture-perfect double play ball on the next pitch to leave two runners on base.
Then back-to-back RBI singles gave the Marlins a 2-1 lead before the first out was finally recorded when Lane Thomas threw out Soler at third with another great throw from right field.
Abrams bobbled another potential double-play grounder, but this one wasn’t an error and wasn’t as costly. Although it seemed like a lot more with all of the contact, Gore got out of the first inning on 13 pitches, seven strikes.
“His fastball was not sharp today,” Martinez said after the game. “We talked about that a little bit. So we're gonna do some work with him as far as mechanics. He just flies open on his fastball. I think he's just trying to do too much. His breaking balls were really good. So we'll get him back on track here. You saw it, I mean, he gets all bent out of shape. We gotta get him to understand, come down a little bit and know that he's gonna be just fine.”
“Everything needs to get a little better,” Gore said. “I thought we threw some good pitches in between counts. But with two strikes, we're not making very good pitches right now, which is fine. But that's kind of where we're at.”
The efficiency finally came in Gore’s next two frames. After giving up a single and a stolen base to Jesús Sánchez, Gore got a groundout, strikeout and popout to end a scoreless second. He then only needed four pitches, all strikes, for a perfect third.
Although short of his pregame goal, Gore’s outing was done. But he got some more work in the Nats bullpen before finally ending his day, throwing 15 more pitches to get up to 50 after his fourth up-down.
Gore did want to throw his changeup more today and he was able to do so successfully. After not throwing it all in his last start, he threw six changeups, five of which landed for strikes.
“If he threw his fastball like his changeup and finished, everything will be aligned and the balls will stay in the middle of the plate, where we want him to be,” Martinez said. “And that's just a minor adjustment.”
Even so, the perfectionist in Gore was still frustrated with the things that did not go right.
“I'm going to try to be positive,” he said. “But, yeah, I got up three times, I threw less pitches today than I did the other day, I think. ... Yeah, I think that was a step. Even warming up in the third, I felt like I was starting to get going a little bit, which is good. So yeah, there's a lot of good things. Thirty-five pitches in three innings is good. But yeah, I'm sure I'll break it down and I'll find something to get better at.”
Offensively, the Nats actually jumped on the board first, with Abrams leading the way.
The young shortstop started the game with a first-pitch single up the middle. He then got a good jump and went first to third on Thomas' grounder to the left side of the infield and beat the throw back to third, showing off his speed. Abrams scored on Corey Dickerson's RBI single for a great opening sequence.
“That's something that you really don't teach. It's just reaction,” Martinez said of Abrams’ first-to-third run. “Once you stop and hesitate, you're done. So he did the right thing, he put his head down and went and got us a run.”
The Nats regained the lead with some situational hitting in the sixth off Bryan Hoeing. Thomas led off with a single and then advanced to third on Hoeing’s errant pickoff attempt that rolled all the way down to the Nats bullpen in the right field corner. Dominic Smith walked and Corey Dickerson scored on Luis García's RBI single to right. García was then caught stealing, but Smith scored on Ildemaro Vargas' groundout to make it 4-2.
Travis Blakenhorn hit a sac fly to score minor leaguer Jeremy De La Rosa in the ninth inning. Fellow prospect Armando Cruz was hit by a pitch in the leg in the same frame but stayed in the game.
An unearned error scored on Carl Edwards Jr. in the eighth thanks to a throwing error by third baseman Leonel Valera. But the right-hander pitched his second consecutive strong inning against the Marlins after a rough outing against the Mets last week. Alex Colomé, Erasmo Ramirez, Wily Peralta, Kyle Finnegan and Jordan Weems pitched scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
The Nationals are now 4-5-1 in Grapefruit League play.