MacKenzie Gore racks up 11 strikeouts as the Nationals handle the A’s

MacKenzie Gore racks up 11 strikeouts as the Nationals handle the A’s

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

OAKLAND, Calif. — The pitch clock was winding down, but MacKenzie Gore didn’t seem fazed. The Washington Nationals left-hander had struck out the previous four hitters, after all, so why stress? The Oakland Athletics’ Abraham Toro already had two hits entering this fifth-inning at-bat, sure, but Gore was one pitch away from tying his career high in strikeouts.

So Gore paced around the mound at Oakland Coliseum before beginning his windup with two seconds left. He threw a high fastball that Toro fouled off. Gore nodded, buried a change-up in the dirt, then went back to the well with another high fastball. Toro couldn’t resist, checking his swing too late.

Gore completed his contributions to the Nationals’ 3-1 victory Saturday afternoon with his 11th strikeout. He lasted just five innings because he needed 90 pitches to get there, but that was more than enough time for Gore to strike out all but one of the hitters in the Athletics’ lineup.

“I knew I was missing bats. I knew we were locating well,” Gore said. “We had a good game plan, and I was able to execute it good enough to where we kind of got in a rhythm.”

The Nationals envisioned this version of Gore when they acquired him from the San Diego Padres in the Juan Soto trade in 2022. He showed flashes of brilliance a season ago, his first full year in the majors. With another year under his belt, the 25-year-old and the Nationals (6-8) hope outings such as Saturday’s come around more often than they did in 2023.

“The crazy part is I still think there’s more in there,” catcher Riley Adams said. “There’s more than what we saw today, and that makes it all really exciting.”

Gore has an electric fastball that he complements with three strong secondary pitches. The Nationals hoped improved secondary stuff could help him break out this year — and it certainly could. But his fastball stole the show Saturday. His fastball is averaging 97.1 mph, up from 95 a year ago. That makes the pitch even harder to hit.

So the game plan for Gore was simple Saturday: Throw the fastball and see whether the Athletics (6-9), who entered without a player hitting better than .240, could handle it. For the most part, they couldn’t.

“Sometimes he gets himself in trouble because of his secondary pitches,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “He doesn’t have to do that. He can go ahead and throw his fastball at the top, down and away, up and in. Because his fastball’s got that much movement.”

Of Gore’s 90 pitches, 52 were fastballs. He mixed in 21 curveballs, 10 sliders and seven change-ups. Gore got 12 swing-and-misses on 28 hacks against his fastball. The Athletics fouled off 11 and put just five in play. Three of those were hits, but only one was hit harder than 100 mph.

Inefficiency has been Gore’s concern at this point of his career. His innings can drag on because he can’t put hitters away, and he sometimes throws noncompetitive pitches when he’s ahead in the count. Gore exited after five innings, but Martinez said that was by design; he wants to keep Gore around 90 pitches at this point so he can pitch the whole season.

Gore allowed four hits Saturday — all singles. And because he established his fastball early, his secondary pitches looked that much better. He retired the final eight batters he faced, including striking out the side in the fifth: He got Nick Allen with a curveball and Lawrence Butler with a slider before finishing off Toro with that fastball.

“They have to be aware of the fastball, and it just makes those pitches that aren’t as hard a lot better,” Gore said. “I’ve been throwing the ball hard and locating it well. And it just opens up everything else.”

The Nationals didn’t give Gore much support, but they did enough. CJ Abrams ripped a triple in the third inning that scored Jacob Young. In the sixth, Luis García Jr. doubled to drive in Jesse Winker. That hit was the Nationals’ first with a runner in scoring position in this series; Washington had been 0 for 18.

Toro doubled off reliever Robert Garcia in the seventh inning, scoring Allen to trim the Nationals’ lead. But Jordan Weems entered and ended the threat by striking out Zack Gelof. Young added an RBI double in the ninth for insurance, and Kyle Finnegan closed the door with a 1-2-3 bottom half.

Note: Catcher Keibert Ruiz missed his fourth straight game with the flu. In the clubhouse Saturday morning, he sat at his locker as his teammates changed into team gear and checked on him. Ruiz had caught the pitchers between innings Friday as Adams changed into his gear and hit in the batting cage ahead of Saturday’s game, but he still didn’t feel well enough to play.

“Yesterday, he felt better during the game, and then he went home and said he felt real sick again,” Martinez said. “Woke up this morning, he’s still sick. Hopefully he starts to feel better here soon. It’s tough to go with just one catcher.”

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