JUNKIES: Mike Rizzo talks MacKenzie Gore's development, Nationals' surging young hitters


Mike Rizzo’s grandson, Sonny, had his four-month checkup on Tuesday and ‘did awesome,’ and he’s already had some toy baseballs in his hands, although ‘they always go right to his mouth.’

One of Rizzo’s starters, MacKenzie Gore, did not do as well Tuesday, only giving the Nationals 4 2/3 innings with his 103 pitches and taking a no-decision in an eventual 7-4 loss to the Padres. There were some good moments, but as the Nats’ GM told the Junkies in his weekly Wednesday appearance, there are still some tweaks Gore needs to make to take that next step.

“He’s got to be more pitch efficient. He has great stuff, up to 99 MPH yesterday with a real good breaking ball, and you saw what he can do to good hitters, getting Juan Soto to swing at three out of the zone,” Rizzo told the Junkies. “He gave up some home runs, but those are hits you just have to give a tip of your cap for. It’s those long counts where you go 3-0 and 3-1 where you have to battle your way back, throw eight or nine pitches – even when you get an out, it’s an expensive at-bat. He’s a power strikeout pitcher, but a lot of those pitchers have to learn how to economize to get deeper into games, and I know he wants to get into the seventh inning every time he pitches.”

Last night aside, Rizzo is feeling where Gore is in his development right now.

“His arsenal is up there with the elite pitchers in the game, but his next step is to be more efficient so he can go deeper in games and help the bullpen and put W’s on the scorecard,” Rizzo said. “He’s a work in progress, but we love where he’s at right now, and you can see what he can really be in the future. Couldn’t be happier what he brings to the table every fifth day, and you can really see what the future holds for him being an electric stuff guy from the left side. Just some more tweaks to get him in the strike zone more consistently and make better use of each pitch that he throws.”

What can Gore do to be more pitch efficient as he develops?

“I think it’s just repetition. I think he was a little amped up yesterday to pitch against his former team, so that could’ve had something to do with it, but in other games, he needs to be better equipped to throw more strikes over the plate and get quicker outs,” Rizzo said. “That’s just the next progression of a young pitcher, especially one who considers himself a strikeout pitcher. He works as hard as anybody and is hard on himself, so he takes these critiques to heart.”

The same sort of progressions go for DH Joey Meneses, who, despite his slugging line being way down from his 56-game rookie campaign, is tied for seventh in the NL in hits and coming on strong.

“He doesn’t have the home run total he would like, but he had a slow start coming off the WBC where they were playing World Series-level baseball in mid-March. He’s hitting in the four hole for us and teams were circling his name to pitch him carefully,” Rizzo said. “I think the league made a big adjustment on him, but now, he’s making those adjustments back. He has a good plan at the plate, and I think the power numbers will come. We just need him to keep doing what he’s doing, put himself in position to have productive at-bats and grind it out. Sometimes that means moving a runner over to set up an RBI opportunity, instead of a home run, but even at 31 years old, you’re seeing the progression of a young hitter making adjustments in the big leagues; these days, with all the technology and advances scouting, hitters have to consistently make adjustments because everyone is smart.”

Lane Thomas is right there with Meneses, close to the Nats’ Triple Crown as he is tied for second in RBI, second in average, and leads the squad in home runs, slugging, and OPS, all from the leadoff spot – a strong season from a now-27-year-old just possibly entering his prime after getting a chance to show what he could do as an everyday player for the first time last year.

“It’s a credit to him and the coaches, he’s improved on both sides of the ball,” Rizzo said. “Early in the season he struggled going back on balls, and the running catch he made last night is not easy for a right fielder in Nats Park. He’s getting much more comfortable in right field and showing good bat speed at the plate, driving the ball, especially against right-handed pitching. When he gets a pitch in his happy zone, he can hit it a long way. We’re excited where he’s at; he’s a toolsy player, and we always thought he could be a guy who was a platoon-type of player who could excel against lefties, but he’s showing he can play every day at the big league level. He’s gotten an opportunity with us, and he’s run with it.”

Listen to everything Rizzo had to say above!

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