Gore sets franchise record in K display vs. former team

June 26th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- When the Padres drafted with the third overall pick in 2017, the left-hander showed potential to have head-turning -- perhaps even record-setting -- performances at Petco Park. 

Gore was traded to the Nationals last August in the Juan Soto blockbuster deal during his rookie season. When he made his first trip back to Petco Park on Sunday afternoon, he indeed set a record -- a franchise mark.

Gore struck out the first six batters he faced during the Nationals’ 8-3 victory over the Padres. He became the first pitcher in franchise history, dating back to the Expos in 1969, to do so, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“That’s awesome,” Gore said of setting a franchise record. “You don’t know what the good Lord’s going to do. A year ago, I was here. But all the credit goes to teammates, [catcher] Keibert [Ruiz]. But …  really cool.”

The Major League record for consecutive strikeouts to begin a game is nine, set by right-hander Pablo López in 2021 with the Marlins. 

Kevin Gross (1990) and Tomo Ohka (2002) had the franchise record of five. In the Nationals era (2005-present), no pitcher had struck out more than the first four batters.

“Right from the first pitch, I said, ‘OK, we’re going to be OK,’” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “He controlled his emotions. He stayed in each at-bat, got to the next pitch. He threw the ball well. These guys are good. They don’t chase; they make you throw strikes.”

Gore opened the matinee by striking out Ha-Seong Kim on five pitches. He worked a full count before nabbing Fernando Tatis Jr. on a foul tip fastball, and he caught Juan Soto looking on a 1-2 slider. 

Gore worked out of full counts against all three batters in the second. He froze Manny Machado on a fastball, and he got Xander Bogaerts (fastball) and Jake Cronenworth (slider) swinging. 

“That was fun, that was cool,” Gore said. “I think a little bit of everything [was working]. Strength of the fastball obviously was good, but I threw some sliders in there with strikeouts. Just solid.”

Martinez has emphasized the importance of establishing the fastball early, to Gore and the other young Nationals pitchers. The Padres noted its efficiency. 

“He was beating us with his fastball,” Tatis said of the pitch, which Gore used to get 34 swings and nine whiffs. “I mean, the guy is talented, and we all know it. He came out there and executed. He was better [than us] today.”

The strikeout streak ended when Nelson Cruz singled to lead off the bottom of the third inning. Gore finished with nine strikeouts while allowing five hits, one run and two walks in five innings. He threw 104 pitches (58 strikes).

Gore’s final matchup ended with a two-out, full-count swinging strikeout against Soto. There was an acknowledgement between the two as they walked off the field. 

“I like him,” Gore said. “He talks some junk, and he’s competitive. I’d never played against him much, but I like him. So there was some of that, and it was just friendly.”

Gore displayed laser focus in his second outing against his former team. He faced the Padres for the first time on May 23 at Nationals Park, when he allowed three runs off seven hits, including two home runs, and exited after 4 2/3 innings.

Gore delivered a different result in his first time back on the mound at Petco Park since July 17.

“This is big for us,” Gore said. “We struggled some here in June – and a big series win. That’s a good team. Try to build off of this and keep the road trip going in the right direction.”