Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats drop home opener to Pirates, 8-4; MacKenzie Gore Ks six in ‘24 debut


Notes and quotes from the Nationals’ loss to the Pirates in the 2024 home opener…

GORE IN HOME OPENER:

If MacKenzie Gore, 25, is going to take the next step in his burgeoning career, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said before the first start of the season for the left-hander, he’s going to have to be more consistent than he was in his first run in Washington’s rotation.

“We saw what he can do when he’s really good,” Martinez said in his pregame presser prior to the home opener yesterday. “He’s got to limit damage when he’s out there. So, but I saw a different guy this spring with him, as far as attacking the zone, staying composed, so we need to see that out of him every five days.”

In 2023, the lefty made 27 starts in his first full major league season, posting a 4.42 ERA, a 4.89 FIP, 57 walks (3.76 BB/9), and 151 strikeouts (9.97 K/9), giving up 27 home runs (for 1.79 HR/9), and finishing the year with a .258/.331/.459 line against in 136 1⁄3 innings pitched.

With some added confidence, having shown himself he can do it at the big league level, his manager is expecting even more in 2024.

“He didn’t lack confidence,” Martinez explained, “but he understands what he needs to do.

“He’s got a really good fastball. I always tell him, ‘Hey, don’t shy away from your fastball, but you’ve got some other weapons you can deal with.’ The biggest thing for him is to keep the ball in the zone. Nobody is going to chase the ball in the other batter’s box. He’s got to be in the zone. His misses got to be — he wants swings and misses, well, they got to be close in the zone. So I expect him to go out there and compete and we’ll see how far he can go.”

Gore threw 47 pitches over the first two innings of the home opener on Monday, working around a one-out single and a walk in the opening frame before a leadoff double, single, and sac fly brought the first run of the game in for the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates, 1-0.

A single and HBP loaded the bases after the RBI hit, and a groundout brought in the second run of the game for the Bucs, 2-0, before Gore settled in, and retired eight straight, in a pair of efficient innings in the third and fourth in which he threw 24 pitches total, but he was up to 71 overall at that point.

A one-out walk in the third ended his streak of retired batters at nine in a row, and a two-out HBP pushed Gore up to 85 pitches, and he was up to 92 at the end of the inning, but he did return to the mound and gave up a leadoff double in the top of the sixth, then struck out his sixth batter, on pitch No. 101 of his 2024 debut. That was it for the lefty.

The runner he left on came around to score, so Gore was charged with three earned runs on the day, to go along with two walks, the six Ks, and two hit batters.

MacKenzie Gore’s Line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 101 P, 62 S, 3/1 GO/FO.

Gore threw 49% fastballs in his first outing this season, mixing in his slider (18%), changeup (17%, up from an average of 2.9% last year), and curve (17%), generating 14 swinging strikes (on 41 swings) and 21 called strikes (nine on his fastball — which averaged 97 MPH, one with his slider, four with his changeup, and seven with his curve).

His manager was happy to see him throw his secondary stuff as much as Gore did.

“We talked about that all spring,” Martinez said after what ended up an 8-4 loss. “The fact that he went out there and used it was awesome. He made some pretty good pitches with that changeup and his breaking ball. We know he’s got a good fastball, but when he can start doing that, it gets the hitters off-balance. And [if he really throws] the ball over the plate, he’s going to be really effective.

“It was a good first start for him, it really was. Let’s build off of that with him.”

He might have been a little amped at the start too. His fastball velocity was up 2.0 MPH on average in start No. 1 of 2024.

“He was pumping 98, so I think he had a little bit of adrenaline,” Martinez said.

“But he settled down. When I took him out he was 97-98, so it was good for him. I think he learned a lot today, so he’ll come out in the next five days and be ready to go again.”

“I was excited,” Gore said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato.

“Adrenaline’s a good thing if you use it the right way. I’m not going to say I necessarily did that the best way, but I was excited and it was a lot of fun.”

ADAMS GETS CHANCE; COMES UP BIG:

Riley Adams’ 2023 campaign ended when he suffered a fractured hamate bone in his left wrist.

The 27-year-old catcher started camp with no restrictions this spring, ready to do it again after a solid season playing sporadically as Keibert Ruiz’s backup in the nation’s capital.

Adams finished his fifth major league season, his third in D.C., with a .273/.331/.476 line, 13 doubles, two triples, and four home runs in 44 games and 158 plate appearances, and told MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato he was looking to build on what he accomplished.

“You always set goals for yourself at the beginning of the year and different things you want to accomplish,” he said late last season, “… and I think there were a lot of those goals that I was really happy with.”

“It’s my first time being in the big leagues for the whole year, and I’m proud of that accomplishment. I felt like every time I was in there, I was able to contribute and have an impact. I think there are a lot of things that are promising and positive to build on. I still know there’s plenty of room to build on, and this year was just a good stepping stone for the future.”

Ruiz started all three games behind the plate in Cincinnati this past weekend, but manager Davey Martinez said before the home opener yesterday he wanted to get Adams out there, behind the plate with Ruiz serving as the DH in the first of three with the Pirates in D.C.

Adams came through again, hitting a two-run blast in the seventh for his first home run of 2024, a 427-foot shot to left field on an 0-1 fastball from Bucs’ reliever Roansy Contreras which the catcher absolutely crushed, tying things up at 3-3 before the visitors rallied for three runs in the top of the eighth inning, going up 6-3 in what ended up an 8-3 win when they added two more in the ninth.

“Bomb. Right?” manager Davey Martinez said of the catcher’s blast. “I mean, we’re always talking with him about being short to the ball, and he was a little long in his couple at-bats, I went up to him and said, ‘Hey, you got to stay short and try to hit the ball out front,’ and he got a hold of one. It was awesome.”

Seeing the power after the wrist injury and surgery was a positive sign as well.

“It’s a really good sign,” Martinez said. “We’re going to need his bat, and he hits lefties really well, so the fact that he did that was awesome.”

Gal-l0-for-12:

Joey Gallo went 0 for 12 with six Ks in the season-opening series in Cincinnati, with two walks in 14 plate appearances.

Gallo, who signed a 1-year/$5M deal with Washington this winter, coming off of a 2023 campaign which saw the 30-year-old slugger put up a .177/.301/.440 line, nine doubles, 21 homers, 48 walks, and 142 Ks in 111 games and a total of 332 PAs, over which he was worth 0.7 fWAR, got off to a slow start this spring, with a .103/.186/.128 line, a double, four walks, and 16 Ks in 14 games.

Is his new manager worried about the 10-year veteran? He did take two walks, and appears patient at the plate, which is a one good early sign, at least according to Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez.

“He’s going to get his walks,” Martinez told reporters before the series finale with the Reds.

“What I want to see him do is be a little bit more aggressive with guys on base, drive in runs. When he comes up with a guy on first, or first and second, I want to see him hit that three-run homer, try to get the ball in the air, but he’s one of those hitters that he understands the strike zone, he really does. It’s very rare that he chases. When he chases, something’s got to be off with him.”

Washington Nationals Photo Day
Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images

“I’m okay with him accepting his walks,” Martinez added, “… this is just part of it, but I also want him to be more aggressive in the strike zone and when he gets a pitch he thinks he can launch, go ahead and let it rip.”

Gallo did hit 21 home runs last season, and he’s just two-[plus] years removed from a 13-double, 38-home run, 4.1 fWAR campaign with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers in 2021, which he finished with a .199/.351/.458 line, 111 walks (18.0% BB%), and 213 Ks (34.6% K%) in 153 games and 616 PAs.

He’s still a threat to launch one at any moment, and when he gets his timing down, Martinez said, they often come in quick succession.

“He’s getting there,” Martinez said of the slugger getting his timing down. “He’s still fouling pitches off I think he should be driving. But when you’re a guy like him that’s just a pure power hitter, you’re going to go through a phase all of a sudden, where you’re not missing those balls, and within a week, you hit five or six home runs. So we hope that he finds that here real soon, but it’s going to happen.”

While they wait, Martinez is happy to see Gallo contribute in any way he can, with walks, or with the glove.

“I love having him up there, I love the threat that he’s a guy that could potentially hit a home run for us,” Martinez said, “and another guy that you saw what he can do defensively.

“He made some unbelievable plays there yesterday. So, he’s doing well.”

Gallo got a day off in the home opener, with Joey Meneses starting at first, and Keibert Ruiz serving as the Nationals’ DH.

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Title: Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats drop home opener to Pirates, 8-4; MacKenzie Gore Ks six in ‘24 debut
Author: Patrick Reddington

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