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MacKenzie Gore Turns The Page With Strong 2019 Debut

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MacKenzie Gore (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — MacKenzie Gore didn’t feel like he was at his best on Friday night. Not by a longshot.

And still, he dominated.

Gore pitched five shutout innings with one walk and eight strikeouts in his 2019 season debut, leading high Class A Lake Elsinore (Padres) to a 4-0 win over Inland Empire (Angels).

Gore, the No. 24 prospect on the BA Top 100 Prospects list, allowed three of the first five batters to reach base before settling in. He retired 11 of his final 13 batters, seven via strikeout, and comfortably sat at 95 mph through his fifth and final inning.

"Execution wasn’t great, but I just kind of went out there and competed,” the 20-year-old lefthander said. "I kind of caught some breaks early. As the game went on I just got more comfortable. Like I said, the execution wasn’t great, but I got people out.”

Gore’s fastball ranged from 91-96 mph and sat 93-95 mph from the outset. He missed high with his fastball a bit at the start, but midway through the second inning he began consistently driving it down into the strike zone and took off. He progressively touched more 95s and 96s the deeper the game went, and his final fastball of the night clocked in at 95 mph. He followed it up with an 83 mph backdoor slider that froze Jordan Zimmerman for a strikeout looking on his final pitch of the evening.

"I thought when he kind of started to go later in innings he started to make adjustments,” Lake Elsinore catcher Luis Campusano said. "For him it was more just establish his fastball and work off that.

"He can do better. Way better. He had a great night today, but you guys haven’t seen anything yet.”

Gore’s best and most-used secondary was a 74-78 mph curveball with late snap that he landed for called strikes. His 82-86 mph slider missed its spots early, but he increasingly found the zone with it as the night went on. He showed his 78-83 mph changeup occasionally, but it was a largely a fastball-breaking ball night for the lanky southpaw.

That was all he really needed. Of the four hits he allowed, one was an infield single that should have been ruled an error and another was a weak ground ball that found a hole through the left side.

"Like I said, nothing was great tonight,” he said. "There were some good fastball-curveball sequences early, and my changeup, I think I threw one good one all day. I threw some good ones and they’re good to build off of. Just gotta be better the next outing and I should be all right.”

In all Gore threw 54 of 90 pitches for strikes. He departed with a 2-0 lead and relievers Travis Radke and Caleb Boushley kept the shutout intact, giving Gore the win in his season debut.

"Kid went out from the first inning and was trying to drive the truck right through the wall,” Lake Elsinore manager Tony Tarasco said. "That was an enjoyment for me to watch. I thought he was hit and miss at the beginning, but he bared down after the second. Once that happened, you can see the different direction everything begins moving.”

Gore got an early lead to work with in the second inning when Gabriel Arias lined a bases-loaded RBI single into right field and Robbie Podorsky added a sacrifice fly. Eguy Rosario crushed a hanging Cooper Criswell slider to left field for a home run in the seventh inning, and Arias added his second bases-loaded RBI single to right in the ninth.

Kyle Bradish, the Angels' fourth-round pick last year, got the start for Inland Empire and took the loss after giving up three hits and two runs in 1.2 innings. He sat 91-93 mph on his fastball while mixing in an 80-83 mph curveball and 84-86 mph slider that blended together. He walked one, struck out two and threw 26 of his 46 pitches for strikes.

That wasn’t going to be enough to beat Gore. The No. 3 overall pick in 2017 went on the disabled list twice with blisters last year and was shut down in August when they came back a third time. With that, he was determined to open the new season on a high note and send the message that he had turned the page.

"I can just pitch now and talk about baseball. It feels great,” Gore said. "This is a big year. This is an important year for me. Gotta go prove something and I got a lot of work to do.”

In that regard, Gore showed a glimpse of just how good he can be. Given that it wasn’t even his best, it was a tantalizing first outing.

"The world is his,” Tarasco said. "Especially throwing the ball the way he does.”

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