Nationals starter MacKenzie Gore is his own harshest critic


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A Beginner’s Guide to Interviewing MacKenzie Gore: He often refers to “we” – as in “I thought we were good early” – to group his game with his catcher and/or team. He regularly scolds himself with a dry joke. And for that, the left-hander is tough on himself.

Really, really hard on yourself.

When asked to rate a five-run, nine-hit game against the Houston Astros on Friday, Gore said, “I mean, the line says something at some point. But we’ll just keep working. …I just need to serve a little better.”

When asked if fastball command was the reason he kept falling behind, he replied, “Yes, I would say just command of everything.”

And when a reporter mentioned a backfoot slider that tricked Jose Abreu into an ugly swing, he remarked, “We threw some good pitches, so that’s crazy.”

“Oh my god,” said manager Dave Martinez about if Gore is being too hard on Gore. “Honestly, we need to get him to stop doing that. We really do. …We need to get him back to just competing and not being so critical of every pitch he throws. We need to get him to relax a little. He’s really good and he’s going to get even better.”

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Along with Friday’s five carries and nine hits, Gore walked two and hit three in four innings. Jeremy Peña, reigning World Series MVP, tagged him with two homers left center. On his previous start, Gore struggled to command his fastball but finished strong. Against the Astros, he escaped two early jams but stumbled to the finish and still fell early on too many counts.

There is no pitch-by-pitch statcast data at the Nationals and Astros’ joint spring training stadium, which can make it difficult to analyze pitchers beyond their own assessments. Gore then offered a candid view of the hallway outside Washington’s clubhouse. He knows spring training isn’t always a harbinger of the regular season. But he made it very clear that five runs and nine hits – and a 7.07 ERA for the spring – can be indicative of something. He wants whatever something is to go away.

“I think there were probably times this spring when I pushed myself too hard,” Gore said Friday. And with the Nationals acquiring the 24-year-old from the San Diego Padres in a Juan Soto trade, there are high hopes for his near- and long-term future.

In his first nine appearances last year, Gore had a 1.50 ERA in 48 innings. He was a Rookie of the Year favorite and a Cy Young contestant. But in his next seven games, Gore had 27 earned runs in 22 frames. Opponents had 1,068 OPS against him. In late July, he was shut down due to elbow pain and missed the rest of the season.

Because of this, he’s both an important part of the Nationals’ rebuilding and a relatively unknown man. He entered professional baseball as the third pick in the 2017 draft. His minor league career has been one of ups and downs. At his best in the mid-’90s, Gore’s fastball plays well at the top of the zone, a product of his strong vertical movement. His curveball can be a plus. But an inconsistent arm slit has sometimes resulted in poor command. And sloppy command has blown bad bats into bad innings.

“The biggest thing for me right now is, if things don’t go the way he wants, we have to get him to understand that he’s supposed to stay out of this big inning,” Martinez said. “To slow everything down and get to the next pitch.”

From the dugout, Martinez has seen Gore bemoan strikes that he doesn’t like. Think of gore as a process over outcome type. The Astros pivoted early and often on Fridays, as is common in spring training. Some of their seven singles from Gore were soft. Others were hit hard. But in Gore’s mind, the most important line is how many counts he’s advanced versus how many favored the hitter.

Typically, counting more hitters will tip his official line the wrong way. However, for some solace in recent launches, Gore can take a look back at last spring. Before the Padres left Peoria, Ariz., Gore allowed four runs, four hits, a homer and two walks in four innings. A few weeks later he was one of the best young pitchers in baseball.

“So maybe that’s exactly what we’re heading for,” he said. Then he laughed a little. Nationals starter MacKenzie Gore is his own harshest critic

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