Padres rookie MacKenzie Gore back from bottom, continues to improve
mackenzie gore uses “we” like he uses his fastball. A lot, and to get out of traffic jams.
The word can refer to him. And it can also mean that he is part of a group. The Padres’ rookie southpaw prefers the latter, to a large extent.
“I mean, we’re confident,” he said a few days ago. “We are throwing well, but we are also playing well, so everyone is confident at the moment. We are all preparing…”
This was in response to a direct question that included the word “you” underlined to the point of being practically yelled after using “we” in response to several questions.
Clarification is often needed. A Conversation with Gore, if the idea is to gain insight into Gore’s thoughts on Gore, can be as circular as it is enjoyable.
It’s as if talking about himself hurts. Forcing him to do so is like asking a two-year-old to eat something he doesn’t want. It can be frustrating to the point of fun, and some respect should be given to the no-bite pledge.
Gore is not aloof. He is simply as humble as he is confident. Don’t get me wrong, Gore is confident. It’s what carried the 23-year-old who behaves like he was 40 through a circuitous and confusing route to the major leagues.
But he knows who he is and where he is.
“Obviously you’re not too comfortable as a young man,” he said. “And I understand that.”
He’s an old school rookie.
“He played the part really well,” pitcher Joe Musgrove said. “A lot is obviously asked of him as a rookie. I remember my rookie year, I was back and forth between the bullpen and the start, and it was kind of like doing what you’re told and fulfilling a role. He’s been a big part of our rotation, so it’s easy to get comfortable quicker than most. But I think he did it really well and he always knows where he is in the ranks and he gives credit to the guys who have been there for a while and are kind of a really good recruit .
Gore, who starts on Saturday against the Brewers, has certainly been that on the court.
He has a 1.71 ERA in 42 innings, including 39 in seven starts and three scoreless innings in a relief appearance. He struck out 47, walked 14 and allowed 31 hits and eight runs.
“Yeah, that’s good,” Gore said. “But it’s eight games. Lots of remaining games. It’s one of those sports where you think you’ve got it (and) it’ll punch you in the mouth.
Doesn’t he know.
In fact, Gore was just thinking this week about the fact that it had been almost a year since he left a mound in El Paso in the second inning of a game against the Sugar Land Skeeters after allowing six runs. His ERA through six Triple-A starts was 5.85, and he had walked 12 batters and had 24 hits in 20 innings.
It was June 18. He wouldn’t pitch in a real minor league game again until August 19, at a Rookie League game in Arizona. He spent the next two months at the Padres compound in Peoria, collapsing and rebuilding – his mechanics, his thinking, pretty much everything but his soul and maybe that too.
He has from the start been vague about what tormented him. But it was basically a mechanical problem that was one degree to start with. After a pandemic and no minor league season in 2020, he was 1,000 miles from the course. It needed to be redone.
“Wrong place,” he said. “It definitely hit rock bottom, rock bottom. And then I think it was slow, steady. Lots of frustrating days where we thought we were going to trigger something, and it didn’t really happen. It took a lot of work. So many people were around me. There were many long days in Arizona, hot Arizona. So it’s good to be successful right now, but also for the guys who helped me because they cared as much as I did.
He mentioned Eric Junge, who was the Triple-A pitching coach at the time, former minor league pitching coordinator Steve Lyons, rehab pitching instructor Christian Wonders and director of sports science Nathan Pram.
“There are people I forget about, but those were the guys (who) were trying to figure something out every day,” Gore said.
Now here it is. Maybe a few years later than expected, but everything the Padres expected when they drafted him third overall from Whiteville (NC) High in 2017.
At least that seems to be the case. Gore, of all people, declares nothing as an absolute.
After six minor league starts, three more in the Arizona Fall League and time spent with new pitching coach Ruben Niebla in San Diego before the lockout, Gore and all the other players on the roster of 40 players were disconnected for 3.5 months. No one knew what to expect when spring training started. Not even Gore.
And he kind of maintained the same thought.
“We all felt the same,” he said. “I got to camp, the enclosures had been good, the lives had been good. Even in the spring, when I was casting, it was like, ‘Is this real?’ Because I had made some changes. I remember the first time I pitched (a live batting practice), it was like, ‘What’s it gonna be like? I don’t even know what it’s going to look like. And that’s kind of how it keeps feeling – like ‘Is this real? Is he just sexy right now? I think it’s getting more and more every day, that we’re starting to figure out what we need to do in terms of delivery, and it’s falling into place.
“Eight games have been good so far, but they’re over. We can be successful here, but there’s still a lot of work to do and we still have a lot of games to win. … We’re still going to get punched in the mouth It’s going to happen, but we’re going to keep pitching well for as long as we can.