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Game Report: MacKenzie Gore Strikes Out 14

Whiteville (N.C.) High lefthander MacKenzie Gore hurled seven shutout innings in a 4-0 victory over South Columbus on Friday night. The East Carolina recruit struck out 14 batters (10 swinging), walked one, and allowed two hits—one on a slow ground ball to third and the other on a ground ball back up the middle that was just under his glove.

Columbus put nine balls in play, with seven ground balls and two popups—one to second and the other to shallow center field. Gore threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 24 batters he faced. He threw 98 pitches (72 strikes, 26 balls). Of those 98, 71 were fastballs, 14 were curveballs, 12 were sliders and one was a changeup. Gore induced 20 swings and misses—10 with his fastball, four with his curveball and six with his slider.

The lefthander long-tossed before the game and then worked down and to both sides of the plate during his pregame bullpen warmup. When he hopped onto the steep mound at South Columbus, it took him a while to find his timing and rhythm, but he settled in quickly.

“I feel like I kind of got better as the game went on,” Gore said. “The one guy I walked—there was a man on second with two outs and a 3-1 count and so I tried to throw a curveball and it fell off a little bit so I walked him. Pounded the zone; later on I had a really good feel in and out. I felt like I threw pretty good tonight.”

Gore has a high leg kick and a long stride off the rubber, mechanics that require precise timing and athleticism to repeat. Gore is a plus athlete, with excellent body control and impressive balance. He pounded the bottom of the strike zone with his fastball and worked both sides of the plate, pitching at 90-92 mph throughout the game and touching 93 five times. He had spurts of missing up and to his arm side, but showed excellent control of his fastball for most of the game.

His fastball flashed late life, flashing slight cut in towards righthanders when he worked down and in and flashing late tailing action or sink when working down and away. Gore used high fastballs to get hitters to expand the zone.

Gore is likely to be selected in the top 10 in this year’s draft. Assuming he signs professionally, the next steps in his development are likely to develop more strength and work on more consistently getting on top of his curveball. The pitch shows tight spin and excellent lateness of break when he’s on top of it. When Gore buried it down and to his glove side, the pitch showed more three-quarter break, diving along the path of his arm slot. When he aimed to backdoor the pitch on the outside corner to righties, it showed more top to bottom shape, with 12:30-to-6 action. His curveball ranged mostly from 72-76.

Gore’s slider is shorter and was sharper for him on a more consistent basis on Friday. Working at 79-82, it showed more horizontal break.

“The slider was really good tonight. It was hard. I threw a lot of strikes with, got a lot of people out,” Gore said. “The curveball wasn’t as good. I threw a few good ones, but staying on top of that curveball and getting over on that slider, that’s how you make them not run into each other.”

“It was just kind of humid out here, sticky,” he said. “I couldn’t really get a good feel on the ball, so when I started throwing breaking balls later I really locked in on getting on top and getting it down in the zone.”

Gore’s lone changeup of the evening came in a 1-1 count with two outs and the bases empty in the fourth inning. The pitch, thrown at 82 mph, tumbled through the bottom of the zone for a ball. The lefthander has shown plenty of potential with his changeup in the past; at last summer’s East Coast Pro Showcase, Gore flashed feel for the pitch and used it to disrupt righthanded hitters’ timing and get them out front. On August 1 against the Northeast Rangers, Gore used his changeup to get ahead of Nick Egnatuk, get a ground ball from Cooper Davis and to get a strike out Justin Vought. He doesn’t need the pitch as often in high school baseball, but it should be a useable offering for him as he gains reps with it.

Whiteville improved to 15-6 with the victory. Gore and the Wolfpack are pursuing their third 1A state championship in four years. Whiteville was the runner up in the 2016 state playoffs.

“We’ve always had older guys, and now we’ve got one senior—I’m the only senior on this team,” Gore said. “There’s only one other player who started a full season coming into this year. It’s a team that’s gotten better every single day.”

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