Gore showcases improvements in 1st outing

Left-hander tosses 2 strong innings in Padres' Cactus League opener

March 19th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Spring Training is always ripe for overreactions to small samples. That’s half the fun of it, right? So here's another of those overreactions (or, perhaps, not):

It's a new year, and, by the looks of things, a brand new MacKenzie Gore.

The Padres have said so all spring. Gore, himself, has been adamant that he's made significant strides and is ready to put those difficult 2020 and '21 campaigns behind him. But until Gore got on the mound in a game-like setting, there would be no tangible proof of his progress.

Well, consider this tangible proof: Gore pitched two scoreless innings in the Padres' 6-4 victory over the Mariners on Friday afternoon at Peoria Stadium. He struck out a pair and allowed only one baserunner, coming on a first-inning error by shortstop CJ Abrams.

"I was looking forward to it," Gore said. "There were some nerves going into today, with everything. But we got through the first one. Now, looking forward to the next one. ... Continue to get better."

Beyond the pitching line, Gore asserted himself like he hadn't before. He threw 33 pitches, 22 for strikes. It was only two innings, but they were inarguably the two best innings Gore has pieced together in any of his three trips to big league camp.

“[He’s] just competing and getting back to: forget about mechanics, forget about everything else,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “You’ve got to get through a tough period? Just compete. That’s how he got here.”

Once the top pitching prospect in baseball, Gore is still waiting on his big league breakthrough. His stock has dropped over the past two seasons, as he dealt with serious command issues.

But it's worth remembering that Gore, the No. 86 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, is still only 23 years old. All the traits that made him such a tantalizing young pitcher remain in place.

“You can’t help but love his stuff,” Melvin said. “You know the history. You saw the numbers in ’19. He’s got that in him. So it’s good to see that he’s confident again.”

After pitching in the Arizona Fall League, Gore worked extensively with new Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla in an effort to hone his mechanics. The two focused specifically on the lower half of Gore's delivery. Then, during the lockout, Gore kept right on working -- a busier offseason than any he'd previously had.

"I did a lot," Gore said. "I needed to do a lot."

That work, it seems, is paying off. On Friday, Gore's fastball touched 98 mph, and his breaking pitches complemented it seamlessly. To end the first inning, he threw two fastballs past Mitch Haniger, then dropped a curveball in the dirt at Haniger's back foot. The Mariners' cleanup man couldn't hold up.

"[The velocity] helps, especially when I'm throwing it in the zone, competing in the zone," Gore said. "That's going to open up a lot of things. That's what we're going to continue to work on -- just getting in the zone better. It's just going to open everything else up."

Worth noting
• The Padres signed left-handed relievers Ian Krol and Travis Bergen to Minor League contracts on Friday, inviting both to big league camp. Bergen posted a 1.69 ERA in 10 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays last season, while Krol had a 4.34 ERA across 18 2/3 frames for the Tigers.

Left-hander Drew Pomeranz is out through Opening Day while he rehabs a flexor injury, leaving Tim Hill as the only southpaw with a guaranteed place in San Diego's bullpen. As such, the Padres are in need of some lefty relief help, potentially giving Krol and/or Bergen a shot to win a roster spot.

• Catcher Jorge Alfaro launched the Padres’ first spring home run, an opposite-field three-run blast over the right-field bullpen that gave San Diego a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning. The Padres landed Alfaro in a deal with the Marlins just before the lockout. He’s part of a crowded catching group in camp, with four backstops vying for playing time. Alfaro’s high-upside righty bat should give him a chance to make the roster as a third catcher/pinch-hit bat.

• Nomar Mazara also went deep, a solo blast to right field to put the Padres on top, 6-4, in the eighth. As things stand, Mazara is in the mix for playing time in the outfield, though it remains likely San Diego adds another outfielder to the mix. Still, Mazara, a non-roster invitee, could win a role as a bench bat.