Nats turns the page, welcomes Luke Voit and MacKenzie Gore

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PHILADELPHIA — And so it was at Citizens Bank Park, on a Thursday night that felt like a bowl of hot soup, that the Washington Nationals took a small step forward. And there to push them were MacKenzie Gore and Luke Voit, both not so fresh off the West Coast Red-Eye Flights, who had just been traded from a contender to baseball’s worst team.

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 a lot. Once Gore and Voit acclimated, the Nationals fell to the Phillies, 5-4, in an official game that was called off after five innings due to a two-hour weather delay.

“It was awesome,” manager Dave Martinez said of his first conversations with Gore and Voit. “I just gave them a bit of what we do here and what we try to do. And [told them] how they are both doing very well.

Gore, a left-handed starter, is 23 and played a key role in San Diego’s haul. To move Soto, the Nationals needed to get him, shortstop CJ Abrams and outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood. General manager Mike Rizzo called them the “elite four” at a press conference on Tuesday. Gore, the kind of potential front-line arm Rizzo covets, was an early candidate for Rookie of the Year after posting a 1.71 ERA through May. Now he’s on the injured list with elbow inflammation and is not expected to pitch for at least seven to 10 days.

The Nationals promise to take it very slowly with him. A stake in their reconstruction rests on the way Gore heals and develops.

“When I was pitching with that, I wasn’t very good,” said Gore, whose ERA soared to 4.50 after 16 appearances before hitting the shelf. “I have to get better so I can start throwing well again.”

Voit, meanwhile, was activated on Tuesday and immediately became the roster’s most proven hitter. He leads the Nationals (37-71) with 13 home runs and .739 on-base plus slugging percentage, slightly better than Yadiel Hernandez and Luis García. Voit was not a major part of the blockbuster deal, but completed it once Eric Hosmer refused to waive his no-trade clause. At 31, he played for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Padres and now the Nationals, starting first and third at bat against the Phillies and Noah Syndergaard. Martinez plans to split Voit’s regular starts between leadoff and designated hitter.

In the first inning, Voit threw an RBI single to the left, hitting a low, wide curve. In the fourth he hit a single to the right side of the field, stopping because he bounced straight off Nick Castellanos and Voit isn’t the fastest runner. He is listed at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds. Near his locker in the visitors’ pavilion, two stands from where Gore dressed for training, Voit promised to meet new teammates in the weight room.

Despite a few laughs, Voit wasn’t kidding. The undone buttons at the top of his cozy jersey are proof of that.

“I know the whole Soto stuff is important and the fans will miss him,” Voit said before helping the Nationals score Syndergaard for 11 hits. Victor Robles (singles, doubles), García (singles), Yadiel Hernandez (two singles), Keibert Ruiz (singles), Lane Thomas (singles), Maikel Franco (singles) and César Hernández (a single that leads to Franco in the second ).

When a rain delay began at 8:47 p.m., Washington had just shot within a point after Voit scored on Syndergaard’s crazy pitch in the fifth. The round ended with Josh Palacios hitting a flyball right, Gary DiSarcina dispatching Yadiel Hernandez from third and Castellanos tossing him a few steps away. Nationals starter Paolo Espino had five runs on seven hits, including Alec Bohm’s three-run shot in the fourth.

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

Their arrivals should not trigger a rise in the standings. This ship sailed a long time ago for this season. If Voit builds on his strong start, it would be a bonus for him and a lean club on a solid track record. If Gore pitches in the last two months of the year, it would be a good sign for his elbow, especially because Martinez and Rizzo have emphasized patience with his rehabilitation.

For one night, however, they didn’t have to rake or be in good health. They just had to introduce themselves.

What did Martinez do losing in five rounds? “I was disgusted. We had good positive energy there and we were swinging the bats well,” Martinez said. “But you can’t do anything against Mother Nature. I mean if it’s going to rain, it’s going to rain. We tried to wait as long as possible. It’s eleven o’clock now, so they missed the game.

And what did Martinez think of DiSarcina sending Hernandez down to fifth? “We shot right there, but the throw was fair for the money,” Martinez said of DiSarcina sending Hernandez down in fifth. “That’s what happens in these situations… We fired, and… if [Castellanos] makes a bad throw, we tie the game. But he made a very good throw.

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