In the final spring tuneup before Opening Day on Thursday, two starting pitchers made their first appearances as members of the home team at Nationals Park this afternoon.
Trevor Williams, who signed a two-year, $13 million contract this offseason, and MacKenzie Gore, one of the top prospects acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto trade last summer, made their Nationals debuts on South Capitol Street during a 3-0 exhibition win over the Yankees in front of 13,012 fans.
The plan for both was to pitch three innings and throw about 50 pitches. But Williams, who had a strong spring, was so efficient, he was able to go out and complete a fourth frame, allowing just one hit, two walks and a hit batter with a strikeout of Aaron Judge and a pickoff at second base on 52 pitches, 30 strikes, over a scoreless outing.
“It was good to complete four. We were shooting for about 50 pitches,” Williams said. “So to get up there, get four ups and have some clean innings was good. It's nice to pitch in a big league atmosphere, a big league stadium. It was a fun first date wearing a white jersey here or white pants here. I took a minute to kind of look around the ballpark from a different angle today and I can't wait to get the regular season started.”
Williams has actually made five appearances (three starts) at Nats Park while being a member of the Pirates and Mets over his seven-year career. But his first appearance with the Nationals, one that still doesn’t officially count, was still about getting ready for when it actually matters.
“At this point of spring training, the boxes that I'm checking are: Am I healthy after this outing and am I ready? Is my body ready to go nine innings for my first start?” he said. “And that's where we're at today. So that's what we're proud of.”
While making his long-awaited Nats Park debut, Gore wasn’t quite as efficient as Williams, but was no less effective.
“It was fun,” Gore said of his first appearance at Nats Park. “I've been waiting a while, all of us. Yeah, it was great.”
Entering the game out of the bullpen in the fifth, the young lefty went strikeout, single, wild pitch, walk, force out and strikeout on 19 pitches, 12 strikes, in a scoreless frame. He went walk, flyout, pickoff at first by Riley Adams and groundout to first in his second inning. He issued back-to-back strikeouts and a popout in the seventh. And then he returned to record the first two outs of the eighth inning to end his day.
“We got some work in today and now it's on to the Braves,” Gore said. “Felt good. Different coming out with him, but Trevor was great. Just tried to build off the way he was doing.”
Gore ended his final spring outing with 3 ⅔ scoreless innings of one-hit ball while walking two and striking out four on 61 pitches, 38 strikes.
“Weird day. A lot of travel lately,” Gore said. “So we had to make sure we did what we needed to do today, both of us, and I thought we did a great job. Now it's some real baseball.”
The only question that remained was: Who will make the third start in the Nats rotation on Sunday? Patrick Corbin and Josiah Gray have officially been announced as the starters for the first two games of the regular season. For a while, it was assumed Gore would fill the rotation’s third spot for the series finale against the Braves.
But now he and Williams, who started today’s game based on his veteran status alone, are in line to pitch Sunday.
Manager Davey Martinez confirmed after the game that it will be Gore on Sunday against the Braves and Williams on Monday for the opener against the Rays.
“That's exactly what we want to see: Pound the strike zone,” Martinez said of their outings today. “They were good, they were really good.”
* Anthony Banda and Thaddeus Ward recorded the last four outs of the game out of the bullpen. Martinez mentioned he wanted to get them into the game so they could get used to pitching at Nats Park.
“Had to get Banda in the game and Ward just to get them used to pitching here,” Martinez said, “and they were both fine.”
Although not made official yet, it would appear both have made the Opening Day roster.
“Let's just say they'll be around for now,” Martinez said with a laugh.
* Alex Call, who has already been told he’s made the Opening Day roster as the fourth outfielder, paced the Nationals offense today. Batting sixth against Yankees lefty starter Nestor Cortes, Call went deep to give the Nats an early 1-0 lead in the second.
“It's always good hitting one out,” Call said of his homer. “Just trusting in the process and trying to get a good pitch and then not try to do too much. But sometimes it flies out of the park and you get to celebrate.”
He then drew a leadoff walk and scored on Ildemaro Vargas' RBI single to push the Nats' lead to 2-0 in the seventh. Call finished the day 2-for-2 with two runs scored and an RBI on the solo home run. He ends the spring with a .327 average and an .882 OPS.
When the Nats face another lefty in Max Fried on Thursday, expect Call to be in the lineup.
“For me, it doesn't really change too much,” Call said. “I'm just trying to go out there and compete and put really good at-bats together to help our team. Whether it's right-handed or left-handed, I don't make the decisions on that. And I will continue to just go out there and compete the absolute best I can. And just let the pieces fall where they may and help our team win.”
Corey Dickerson hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh to score Luis García for the Nats’ third run.
* Top prospects James Wood and Elijah Green also made their Nationals Park debuts today.
Wood, the Nats’ new No. 1 ranked prospect wearing a nameless No. 96 jersey, pinch-ran for Dominic Smith in the sixth inning and took over right field in the seventh. In his lone at-bat, he struck out on an 88 mph slider.
Green, the former No. 5 overall draft pick wearing a nameless No. 95 jersey, took over center field in the top of the eighth and drew a full-count walk in his only plate appearance.
For a brief time in the top of the eighth inning, Wood and Green were in the outfield with Gore on the mound. A small glimpse into the future the Nats are hopefully working toward.
“Yeah, it was pretty cool,” Martinez said, “for a brief moment.”
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