Wood homers again, Gore is sharp in Nats' first spring win

JUPITER, Fla. – James Wood, a pleasant young man of few words, was surprised to see reporters waiting to speak to him after today’s game at Roger Dean Stadium, less than 24 hours after the same group interviewed him following the Nationals’ exhibition opener in West Palm Beach.

Sorry, kid. But when you homer in each of your first two Grapefruit League games, you get interviewed.

Wood followed up his impressive debut Saturday night with another impressive feat this afternoon. His 422-foot homer to dead-center in the top of the fifth was the top highlight of the Nats’ 6-3 victory over the Marlins, a second straight titanic blast to make the 21-year-old prospect the clear early story of the spring.

“It’s good to see a kid get off like that early in camp,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He does everything the right way. … I’ve got no complaints. I love watching him play. He’s going to be special.”

Given his first opportunity to start in right field after coming off the bench the previous night against the Astros, Wood went 1-for-2 with that two-run homer and a walk. He also recorded an outfield assist, a rare 9-6 force out when Miami’s Jonathan Davis (leading off first base) froze on a line drive single in the third and was thrown out.

The homer, though, was the top highlight of the afternoon. Facing 28-year-old left-hander Devin Smeltzer, Wood fell behind in the count 0-2, whiffing at a 78-mph sweeper. When Smeltzer came back with that same pitch seconds later, Wood laid off it and let it bounce for ball one. Then after fouling off a fastball, he was ready for another sweeper in the zone, staying on it and driving it straight to center field.

The ball left Wood’s bat at 109.7 mph. It landed 422 feet away, striking the batter’s eye beyond the center field fence.

“It’s just an awkward angle trying to face that guy,” he said of Meltzer. “I was way out in front of (the first sweeper). It’s a good thing you get three strikes, because I was able to make an adjustment there.”

The kind of adjustment by a young prospect facing a left-hander that makes a major league manager gush.

“He talked a lot about his two-strike approach,” Martinez said. “He’s trying to really see the ball up. He said: ‘I can catch up to the balls up. The breaking balls down give me trouble. I’m trying to look for the ball up.’ I said: ‘That’s beautiful. That’s perfect. That’s kind of what we want, that’s kind of what we teach. Just get the ball up in the zone a little bit.’”

As Wood rounded the bases, his parents roared with approval from the stands. He said he didn’t hear them in the moment, but their presence during spring training has been welcome.

“It was really cool,” he said. “I say this a lot: I wouldn’t really be where I am without them. Having them be along for the whole journey is great.”

There were other highlights to the Nats’ first victory of the spring, starting with two sharp innings on the mound from MacKenzie Gore.

Making his spring debut, the left-hander cruised through his two frames, striking out four and throwing 21 of his 26 pitches for strikes. He needed only 10 pitches to complete the bottom of the first, even though the inning included strikeouts of Luis Arraez and Jon Berti.

“Yeah, if we can do that every time, we’ll be alright,” Gore said with a smile when informed how few pitches he threw to record those first three outs. “Let’s bottle that one up and do it.”

With a fastball that consistently hit 96 mph and consistently found the plate, Gore also got a pair of whiffs on his curveball and a couple more on his changeup. The one hard hit he surrendered – an RBI single to left by Christian Bethancourt – came a second consecutive changeup, something he said he wouldn’t normally do in a game but was thrown today specifically because he was trying to work on commanding the pitch.

“Normally he wouldn’t throw a changeup like that, the base hit,” Martinez said. “But he was working on it. The guy who hit a base hit, he was throwing fastballs right by him. I’m happy by what he did today. He looks really good.”

Other highlights from the win:

* Robert Hassell III followed up his strong Saturday debut with another single (making him 3-for-4 at that moment), a stolen base and a sacrifice fly.

* Dylan Crews drew a walk for the second straight day and scorched a 105-mph line out to center.

* Trey Lipscomb, getting the start at second base, legged out an RBI infield single in the sixth.

* Darren Baker, who replaced Lipscomb in the field, notched his first hit of the spring.

* Lewin Diaz, the former Marlins first baseman trying to make the Nationals off a minor league deal, hit a two-run homer in the sixth.

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