Are you talking to me?

Last night, MacKenzie Gore threw a gem with one earnie over 5⅓ innings with 10 Ks and no walks. That moved Gore to the top of FanGraphs WAR on the Nats at +1.5 and slightly ahead of Trevor Williams. Let’s face it, FanGraphs loves strikeouts and pitchers controlling the game. Extrapolate Gore’s +1.5 to +4.5 for the season, and you see visions of an ace.

When general manager Mike Rizzo spoke at a Hot Stove event and talked about making signs for Spring Training, “I don’t care how fast you throw ball four, he was widely ridiculed for it when the signs actually appeared inside the bullpen practice mounds at the CACTI Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. What do you say now?

What seemed humorous to some with those signs, was really just an emphasis to Nats’ pitchers to: Think before you throw a pitch, and have a purpose with each pitch. Jake Irvin‘s BB9 is now 1.6 compared to 4.0 last year, Gore’s 2.6 against 3.8 in 2023, Mitchell Parker is at 1.6 and 6.1 in Triple-A last year, and Trevor Williams at 2.5 compared to 3.3 in 2023.

Obviously a sign won’t change who you are unless you decide that you want to change. Credit to pitching coach Jim Hickey and pitching strategist Sean Doolittle for a lot of what we are seeing. Fewer walks and a team 1.296 WHIP certainly has helped lower the runs scored as the team is now at 3.88 and 5th best in the National League.

What a turnaround, and that ERA includes Josiah Gray‘s 14.04 and Tanner Rainey‘s 9.64 and Patrick Corbin‘s 6.12 as well as the DFA’d Matt Barnes who left the team with his 6.75. Imagine if the team could infuse some better talent into this pitching staff. Maybe the timing will be right for RHP Cade Cavalli to return from the 60-day IL and push Corbin from the starting rotation into the bullpen to replace Rainey.

The question going forward, of course, is whether this level of performances from Williams, Gore, Irvin and Parker is sustainable for a full-season. There is no doubt that Gore is looking like a true ace as evaluators thought he would be out of the draft near the top of the first round by San Diego. His work on refining his repertoire and the shape of getting his 4-seam fastball back to where it was two years ago is a great step in the right direction along with tunneling his breaking pitches to make his swing & miss potential even better.

Clearly there is more work to be done. This is perpetual motion where you always have to keep shoving forward and trying to improve. Once you get complacent and satisfied with where you are — you find that someone else who has worked harder will surpass you.

This year, the entire staff has a 2.9 BB/9 versus 3.7 last year with essentially the same pitching staff is quite the improvement, and the team’s 13 Ks and zero walks last night was a huge step in the right direction. Maybe Rizzo can put up a sign, “You can’t make mistakes on the bases.” Actually if you listen to his talk about walking batters, he makes that exact quote near the end. The Nats might have the most stolen bases in baseball at 89, but they also have been picked off of bases the most at 11 — and we know how costly that was in Boston — and the fact that Victor Robles was DFA’d.

Certainly, there are more places to improve, but there has certainly been progress. Shove forward and keep winning series.

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