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Home Sports With September looming, the Nationals are monitoring their young arms

With September looming, the Nationals are monitoring their young arms


TORONTO — Tuesday’s outing for MacKenzie Gore wasn’t his sharpest by any means, but he labored through five innings in the Nationals’ win over the Toronto Blue Jays, overcoming an inefficient beginning to allow just one run and preserve the team’s bullpen for the series finale.

Gore has pitched 132⅓ innings across 26 starts this season. He threw 70 innings a year ago, a total he’s poised to nearly double with his next outing.

“Yeah, it’s big,” Gore said. “I needed to make the jump for workload purposes. And I feel good. The [velocity] is steady. The off-speed wasn’t there tonight, but I’m still throwing hard, which is important. So that’s good. We just got to keep doing the right thing so we stay healthy and we should be all right.”

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Gore, 24, was acquired from the San Diego Padres last season in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell deal but didn’t pitch in the majors last season after left elbow inflammation sidelined him in late July. He made four rehab starts for Class AAA Rochester before the team shut him down. This year, Gore has made every start as scheduled.

But as Manager Dave Martinez has hinted at in recent days, the Nationals will have to make a decision about when to shut down Gore.

“Right now, he’s doing really well,” Martinez said of Gore this weekend. “We want to try to push him just a little bit because he didn’t pitch that much last year. But we’ll see where we’re at. He feels great. The medical staff, all the numbers are matching up to what we think it should be. But there’s going to come a point in time where we’ll have to make a decision on what to do with him.”

Gore isn’t alone. Jake Irvin has thrown 102⅔ innings this season after throwing 103⅓ innings a year ago.

“I don’t think about it at all, man,” Irvin said. “For us, it’s just a one-day-at-a-time focus. The decisions they make on that are what they are. For me, my job is to go out there every sixth day and compete like crazy. So just gonna focus on doing that down the stretch and the rest of it will be what it will be.”

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The Nationals have moved to a six-man rotation to space out starts. Martinez acknowledged that they’re watching their young pitchers to see how well they’re using their lower halves and if their release points remain the same. He’s in constant communication with the medical staff.

“We’re going to keep monitoring; we’re going to keep watching,” Martinez said. “[Pitching coach Jim Hickey], myself, [bullpen coach Ricky Bones] with the bullpen guys. We’re really keeping an eye on all these guys. Making sure that we do the right thing for them, for our organization. Because we know what we’re building for in the future.”

The Nationals encountered a similar situation with Josiah Gray, spacing out a few of his starts toward the end of the 2022 season. Gray threw 70⅔ innings in 2021, his first season in the big leagues. He threw 148⅔ last season and is on pace to exceed that by this season’s end. Martinez often has said a 20-25 percent increase in innings from the season before is ideal. Gore already has exceeded that and realistically could reach a similar number to Gray’s last season.

The Nationals have used just seven starters this season: Gore, Irvin, Gray, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Williams, Joan Adon and Chad Kuhl. Last year, 15 pitchers started a game. Soon, they’ll need to go into their depth. Thad Ward, the team’s Rule 5 draft pick this season, could be a candidate. Ward has to be on the team’s active roster to end the season if they want to retain him as a Rule 5 pick.

Ward, who started the season in the bullpen but was a starter in the minor leagues for the Boston Red Sox, is coming off Tommy John surgery, so the Nationals wanted to be cautious with his innings. He has been sidelined since early July with right shoulder inflammation, but has been building up to throw five innings. He’s made two rehab starts for high-Class-A Wilmington and pitched four innings in each. He allowed three runs in his latest Tuesday.

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Another option could be Jackson Rutledge, the team’s 2019 first-round pick. He was placed on the team’s 40-man roster this offseason to avoid being taken in the Rule 5 Draft. Rutledge started the year in Class AA Harrisburg, but was promoted to Class AAA Rochester, where he has a 4.93 ERA in 10 starts. Coincidentally or not, Rutledge and Irvin have had the same start day for their past four starts. The Nationals could be lining up Rutledge to make his debut, but he is in the same boat as some of the team’s other young pitchers. Rutledge, 24, has thrown 114 innings in 2023, the first time he has crossed the 100-inning threshold in his professional career. So he too will have to be managed in the final month.

The Nationals don’t have many starters options remaining, unless they go outside of their 40-man roster. Cory Abbott is on the 40-man roster but he struggled in a long relief role with the Nationals. So is Roddery Muñoz, who was claimed in mid-July and has a 9.28 ERA in eight starts. Those roster decisions will come soon. In the meantime, Gore and Irvin will keep stacking innings in a rotation that has proved durable and reliable all season long.

“They’ve been workhorses,” Martinez said of his starting rotation. “And as of late, they’ve been really, really good. So proud of them. Those guys take the ball every five days, every six days now. But they’ve been awesome.”

POST AUTHOR: Andrew Golden

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