Nats slug big homers but can't get key outs vs. Dodgers

September 9th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals struggled to establish the strike zone, allowing the Dodgers to dictate in an 8-5 rain-delayed setback at Nationals Park on Friday night.

Los Angeles peppered Washington pitching for eight runs on 10 hits and nine walks in a game delayed 94 minutes by rain in the seventh inning.

From starter ’s choppy first frame to the use of six relievers, the Nationals had trouble recording outs, but and CJ Abrams provided the offense with big home runs.

In the end, it was the Dodgers’ relentless lineup that decided the contest, hitting three homers off Gore early before chipping away at the Nats’ bullpen.

Here are three takeaways from the Nationals’ ninth loss in their past 11 games.

Bullpen struggles
Following Gore’s departure after four innings, Washington’s relief corps labored. Five relievers managed eight outs.

Mason Thompson replaced Gore and was unable to find the strike zone, walking Chris Taylor and Will Smith and surrendering a double to Freddie Freeman. Robert Garcia got the Nats out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, but he could not record an out in the sixth.

Garcia and Jordan Weems combined to allow four runs on two hits and three walks over 1 1/3 innings. Jose A. Ferrer managed one out. Andrés Machado relieved him and induced a double-play grounder.

Following the long rain delay, Amos Willingham finished the game with 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

"The walks killed us today,” manager Dave Martinez said. “A lot of 3-2 counts today. So we’ve got to throw strikes. We’ve got to get ahead, stay ahead.

"It's contagious. One guy comes in and [walks someone], and then it seems like everyone after him walks one or two guys. Against a team like that, [if] you give them free bases, you are going to pay the price. It just can't happen."

Only Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan did not pitch out of the ‘pen, which puts pressure on the Nationals’ starters in a stretch of 17 games without an off-day.

Power from the trades
Ruiz and Abrams have combined to hit 33 of the Nationals’ 129 long balls this season, setting career highs with 17 and 16 homers, respectively.

Ruiz, who played in eight games for the Dodgers to begin his big league career, cranked a three-run shot in the first inning to give the Nats a 3-2 lead.

The 25-year-old has hit four homers in four games this season against his debut club. Ruiz was acquired from Los Angeles at the 2021 Deadline as part of the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner trade.

"The results are there [against the Dodgers],” Ruiz said. “I am not trying to do too much -- look for a good pitch and get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing.”

Abrams, 22, gave the Nationals a 5-4 lead in the fifth with a two-run shot over the left-center-field wall off Dodgers starter Emmet Sheehan. But Los Angeles took back control with four runs on three hits and three walks in the sixth.

"The young kids are getting better,” Martinez said. “You are starting to see a little bit of the power production they can have. I think they are only going to get better, too, in the future. When they both learn how to really shrink the strike zone, they are going to take off. We’ve got two potential All-Stars there."

How many more starts will Gore get this season?
Gore, making his first start since Aug. 29, allowed four runs on three homers over four innings. He was taxed for 89 pitches (52 strikes) and gave up six hits -- at least one in each frame -- while walking two and striking out four. He left with a blister on his throwing hand.

"Obviously, I didn't throw the ball very well,” Gore said. “I don't think it had anything to do with the extra days [of rest]. Just wasn't very good. Some bad pitches, offspeed in the middle of the zone, and that's what those guys do -- they hit that. They do a really good job of that, and I threw it right there. Just kind of the way the year has been. That same kind of pitch -- offspeed or fastball in that location -- has just hurt us in a lot of situations."

Gore has pitched into the seventh inning once in his past eight outings and has tossed 136 1/3 innings over 27 starts -- both career highs -- in 2023. The Nats will monitor Gore’s final few starts after the left-hander threw just 70 innings in 16 appearances (13 starts) for the Padres last season.