LA's Miller, SD's Gore face off in AFL

October 29th, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Arizona Fall League is known more for slugfests than pitching duels, because teams rarely send elite arms to the developmental circuit. Only three pitchers on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list are in Arizona, and two of them faced off on Thursday.

Dodgers right-hander (No. 78) outpitched Padres left-hander (No. 56), though the latter's Peoria Javelinas rallied from a four-run deficit to beat the Glendale Desert Dogs, 7-6, with three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Mariners shortstop Jose Caballero capped the comeback with a walk-off single against Cardinals righty Jake Walsh.

In his first AFL start for the Desert Dogs after two relief appearances, Miller worked three innings, allowing a run on two hits and a walk in the first before retiring the side in order in the second and third. Gore gave up four runs (three earned) on seven hits in five innings.

Miller said he enjoyed matching up with Gore.

"Coming to the ballpark, I didn't know, but I saw he was pitching before the game," said the 2020 first-rounder out of Louisville. "I like to think normally when I'm going up against a matchup like that, I'm likely to succeed a little more for some reason. It's nice going against a really good arm like him."

Miller did succeed, throwing 24 of 37 pitches for strikes and hitting 97 or 98 mph with his 19 fastballs, four-seamers with heavy action. His curveball was especially sharp, allowing him to get ahead in counts and finishing off two of his three whiffs.

The 22-year-old sees the curveball as his biggest point of emphasis this fall. It lacked reliability and shape in college, and he developed better command with it after he shelved a spike curve for a more traditional bender this year.

"Besides the first inning when I let a few pitches get away, left a couple pitches down the middle, after that, I dialed it back in," Miller said. "I got my curveball down early. I noticed when I landed it early in the count, they were taking it and they were hunting heaters first pitch. I had to get ahead of them with different pitches, and that worked out well."

Once rated as the game's best pitching prospect, Gore has battled inconsistency with his mechanics and stuff for much of the past two years. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 Draft out of a North Carolina high school, he delivered 61 of 92 pitches for strikes and didn't issue a walk after giving up five over 1 1/3 innings in his previous start. But the quality of his stuff fluctuated against the Desert Dogs.

Gore was able to get swings-and-misses when his fastball climbed to 94-95 mph, but his heater was hittable at lower velocities, and Angels shortstop turned around a 92-mph fastball for a 427-foot homer with an exit velocity of 107 mph. Gore displayed some sharp sliders and recorded two of his punchouts on 86- to 87-mph breaking balls, though he also had trouble landing it for strikes. He fooled Cardinals right fielder with a 78-mph curveball, then hung an 80-mph curve on the next pitch and saw it swatted for a 382-foot homer with an exit velo of 98 mph.

Peoria trailed, 4-1, when Braves first baseman got to Dodgers right-hander for a solo homer (373 feet at 98 mph) in the fourth, and was down 6-3 before Pirates center fielder took Knack deep for a two-run shot (426 feet at 105 mph) in the seventh. Bae finished the day with three hits -- including a key single in the ninth -- and three RBIs.

Glendale fell to 7-6 and three games behind the Surprise Saguaros in the AFL West. Peoria is 5-8 and five games back, in last place.