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8 tosses, 4 pitches, 1 confident Gore in debut

'Tired of the sim games,' top pitching prospect records 1-2-3 inning
@AJCassavell
March 5, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After all the buildup, MacKenzie Gore's first outing in a Padres uniform was done after just eight pitches. Gore, MLB Pipeline's top-ranked pitching prospect, wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. "Eight pitches is great," he said afterward, shooting down the notion that he might have preferred

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After all the buildup, MacKenzie Gore's first outing in a Padres uniform was done after just eight pitches.

Gore, MLB Pipeline's top-ranked pitching prospect, wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

"Eight pitches is great," he said afterward, shooting down the notion that he might have preferred to get a bit more work. "Hard [for them] to do damage when you only throw eight pitches. I love eight-pitch innings."

Gore made quick work of the Mariners in his Cactus League debut on Thursday, a 3-0 Padres victory. He got Kyle Seager to bounce to first on a 1-1 changeup. He got Austin Nola to pop to first on a 1-2 fastball. And he got Collin Cowgill to ground to short on a first-pitch slider.

Add in that first-pitch curveball to Nola -- a bender across the outside corner, which froze the right-handed hitter -- and Gore used all four of his offerings. Better still, he threw all four for strikes.

"He was efficient," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said with a laugh. "Eight pitches, and he managed to get all his pitches involved."

Gore is in big league camp for the first time, and it remains highly unlikely that he cracks the Opening Day rotation this spring. The Padres have slow-played both him and fellow top pitching prospect Luis Patiño (who debuted on Wednesday).

What will SD's Opening Day roster look like?

That's mostly a testament to the way the Padres value that prospect duo. They clearly believe Gore and Patiño can make an impact in the big leagues this season. But considering neither has pitched a full season at Double-A, there's no reason to push them in early March.

Gore has been mostly resigned to pitching in back-field sim games and live batting practice sessions. He's drawn rave reviews in those outings, but needless to say he was eager to step into a game situation on Thursday.

"I was ready to go today," he said. "I was ready to pitch, tired of the sim games and the bullpens. But it prepared me. I felt prepared when I got out there today."

It showed in his crisp performance on Thursday. Six of Gore’s eight pitches were strikes, and his fastball sat in the mid-90s.

"[Catcher Francisco] Mejía put down the fingers, and I felt confident," Gore said. "It worked."

The No. 3 overall selection in the 2017 Draft, Gore made 20 starts between Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and Double-A Amarillo last season. He posted a 1.69 ERA with 12 strikeouts per nine innings, taking home MLB Pipeline Pitcher of the Year honors in the process.

Next up for Gore? Presumably something more than eight pitches. He'll likely build to two innings in his next appearance -- a progression that should have him in line for a full starter's workload when the Minor League season begins.

At this rate, Gore won't spend much time in the Minors. The Padres decided not to give out Major League contracts to any free-agent starting pitchers this winter, largely because they wanted to leave opportunities available for their young arms.

Still, the Padres' starting five is mostly set right now, with Joey Lucchesi in prime position to secure the last rotation spot. From there, it's up to Gore to earn his big league opportunity.

"He'll determine what happens the rest of the way," Rothschild said. "We'll let that play out and make sure we put him in the best position possible."

If that means a March 5 debut lasting only eight pitches, so be it. Gore is clearly on board.

"Just trust the plan,” he said with a knowing smile, “and good things will happen.”

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.