Wednesday, February 28

Nationals start next chapter, then lose to Phillies in rain-shortened game


PHILADELPHIA — And so it was at Citizens Bank Park, on a Thursday evening that felt like a bowl of hot soup, that the Washington Nationals took a tiny step forward. And there to nudge them were MacKenzie Gore and Luke Voit, both not so fresh off red-eye flights from the West Coast, having just been traded from a contender to the worst team in baseball.

But for the Nationals, just seeing two of the six players they acquired from the San Diego Padres for Juan Soto and Josh Bell? It was something if not much. Once Gore and Voit were acclimated, the Nationals fell to the Phillies, 5-4, in an official game that was called after five innings following a two-hour weather delay.

“It was awesome,” Manager Dave Martinez said of his first conversations with Gore and Voit. “Just gave them a little bit of what we are doing here and what we’re trying to do. And [told them] how they both fit really nicely.”

Gore, a left-handed starter, is 23 and was a key part of the haul from San Diego. To move Soto, the Nationals were set on receiving him, shortstop C.J. Abrams and outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood. General Manager Mike Rizzo called them the “elite four” in a news conference Tuesday. Gore, the sort of potential front-line arm Rizzo covets, was an early Rookie of the Year candidate after posting a 1.71 ERA through May. Now he’s on the injured list with elbow inflammation and is not expected to throw for at least another seven to 10 days.

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The Nationals are vowing to take it very slow with him. A stake of their rebuild rides on how Gore heals and develops.

“When I was pitching with this, I wasn’t very good,” said Gore, whose ERA spiked to 4.50 after 16 appearances before he hit the shelf. “I need to get better so I can get back to pitching well.”

Voit, on the other hand, was activated Tuesday and immediately became the club’s most accomplished hitter. He wasn’t a major component of the blockbuster deal, yet rounded it out once Eric Hosmer declined to waive his no-trade clause. At 31, he has played for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Padres and now the Nationals, starting at first and batting third against the Phillies and Noah Syndergaard. Martinez plans to split Voit’s regular starts between first and designated hitter.

In the first inning, Voit blooped an RBI single to left, reaching for a low-and-away curve. In the fourth, he punched a single off the right field wall, stopping because it bounced right to Nick Castellanos and Voit isn’t the fastest runner. He is listed at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds. By his locker in the visitors’ clubhouse, two stalls from where Gore dressed for a workout, Voit promised to meet some new teammates in the weight room.

Despite a few laughs, Voit didn’t appear to be joking, judging by the undone buttons at the top of his snug jersey.

“I know the whole Soto thing’s a big thing and the fans will miss him,” Voit said before helping the Nationals tag Syndergaard for 11 hits. Joining him in that effort were Victor Robles (single, double), Luis García (single), Yadiel Hernandez (two singles), Keibert Ruiz (single), Lane Thomas (single), Maikel Franco (single) and César Hernández (a single that drove in Franco in the second).

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When a rain delay began at 8:47 p.m., Washington had just pulled within a run after Voit scored on Syndergaard’s wild pitch in the fifth. The inning ended with Josh Palacios hitting a flyball to right, Gary DiSarcina sending Yadiel Hernandez from third and Nick Castellanos throwing him out by a couple steps.

“But it’s obviously a lot of money left out there for potentially next offseason and signing a bunch of guys instead of just one,” Voit continued. “This is the first time I’ve been on kind of a losing team since I was in college … so it’s a little different.”

Their arrivals are not expected to spark a climb up the standings. That ship sailed long ago for this season. If Voit builds on his strong debut, it would be a bonus for him and a club thin on solid track records. If Gore pitches in the final two months of the year, it would be a great sign for his elbow, especially since Martinez and Rizzo have stressed patience with his rehab.

For one night, though, they didn’t have to rake or have a clean bill of health. They only had to show up.

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