Shutting down Gore, a key part of the Nationals’ rebuild who pitched a career-high 136⅓ innings this year , reflects the left-hander’s long-term importance to the franchise. Rookie right-hander Jake Irvin, who started Saturday’s 7-6, 11-inning win, also has pitched more innings this season than at any point in his career and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Nationals shelve the 26-year-old on the shelf in the coming days, though impressive outings such as Saturday’s make shutting him down more complicated.
The Nationals’ bullpen allowed four runs in innings seven through nine, allowing the Dodgers to even the score in the ninth on a Kolten Wong single. Both teams scored a run in the 10th before the Nationals won on a walk-off wild pitch in the 11th. Michael Chavis scored the winning run.
“It makes it worth it because we were here all day,” Chavis said. “Luckily it wasn’t a 1 o’clock game so we were here even longer. But it worked out really well. The guys are all going home on a high note to hopefully keep that energy going tomorrow.”
The Nationals have 20 games remaining. Martinez said he would hate for Gore to build up to pitch again after his stint on the injured list only to make one more start. So the 24-year-old’s first full season with the Nationals probably is finished after 27 starts, a 7-10 record and a 4.42 ERA.
In his latest start Friday, Gore allowed four runs in four innings. He didn’t return for the fifth because of the blisters, a nagging injury that plagued him in July against the Philadelphia Phillies and last month against the Red Sox.
Gore’s recent outing ended a season that included flashes of dominance and moments that underscored his inexperience and need to grow. His pitch arsenal of a four-seam fastball, slider and curveball produced 151 strikeouts. But Gore didn’t attack the strike zone consistently, resulting in 57 walks, high pitch counts and 27 home runs allowed.
“When I talk to him, it’s going to be all about consistency,” Martinez said. “His stuff is always electric. We got to get him to understand how to use his stuff, how to attack hitters a little better, being around the zone. His misses got to be more around the zone. But overall, he’s matured from the beginning of the year to now tremendously. He really has.”
Martinez also commended Gore’s ability to control his emotions better than he did early in the year. Gore has a tendency to beat himself up after mistakes.
Though they are shutting him down, the Nationals can take solace in the durability Gore showed. He tossed just 70 innings last season for the San Diego Padres before he was placed on the injury list with left elbow inflammation. He was acquired by the Nationals shortly thereafter in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade, made a few rehab starts at the Nationals’ minor league affiliates but didn’t debut for the major league team until April.
Martinez said Saturday that Gore’s innings total was beyond the number the team expected from him this season. The Nationals have not decided whether they will return to a five-man rotation or find someone to fill Gore’s place for the remaining games.
Irvin took the ball Saturday for another start after a four-hour, 10-minute rain delay. Irvin allowed back-to-back hits to open the game, putting a pair of runners in scoring position. But he only surrendered one run that inning on a Max Muncy sacrifice fly. Lane Thomas hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning to tie the game at one before adding a two-run homer in the seventh.
Before that, Luis García delivered an RBI single in the fifth to collect his first hit since rejoining the team Friday while giving the Nationals a 2-1 lead. Dominic Smith added a sacrifice fly later in the inning.
Irvin allowed one more hit and two walks the rest of his outing, completing six innings and retiring his final seven batters. Jordan Weems allowed a run in the seventh before Thomas’s homer, his fourth in his past four games. Thomas hadn’t played since Sunday because of a back injury. That home run proved even more vital when Muncy blasted a two-run homer off Hunter Harvey in the eighth.
Irvin has allowed three earned runs or less in eight of his past nine starts and has been the team’s most consistent starter in the season’s second half. He continues to make a strong case that he should be in the team’s rotation next season. But the bullpen couldn’t reward him with a win and nearly lost it.
“From where we started with him to where he is now, he’s made unbelievable strides,” Martinez said of Irvin. “I’m very proud of what he’s been able to do. Hopefully we can sustain that with him and he builds off of that and finishes off the season strong. And then next year, he becomes a guy.”
The Nationals’ rebuild is centered largely on young pitchers such as Irvin and Gore, making Gore’s health crucial. Josiah Gray was an all-star but has struggled of late. Washington didn’t get to see Cade Cavalli, their former top prospect who underwent Tommy John surgery before the season. And while Gore’s year wasn’t perfect, he showed plenty.
“I told [Gore] before, I said, ‘You’re a future all-star if you want to be,’ ” Martinez said. “And that’s the physical game, the mental game. Physically it’s great. The mental game is what he’s really working on a lot and he’s done really well with that. So I’m looking forward to … if this is it, that he comes back and understands who he is, because I think he’s one of two of the top guys in our rotation. That’s kind of how I’m looking at it.”