FORT WAYNE, Ind.-  Last night, MacKenzie Gore made his much anticipated debut with the Fort Wayne TinCaps (A), striking out four and allowing two runs over three innings of play.  He did not factor into the decision as the Midwest League’s youngest squad dropped their sixth straight game to start the year.

From the moment he took the mound, Gore’s poise and competitive spirit were immediately palpable; yet, he later confessed to experiencing some typical nervous tension and excitement prior to the game, saying, “You always get the nerves before the game, and when you stop getting those, you need to hang it up. So hopefully, I’ll keep getting nervous for a while.”

His first pitch, a low 90’s fastball, missed outside, but he responded by hammering the zone, inducing a foul and two whiffs for his first strikeout.  “Yeah, it was good,” Gore respond when asked about how it felt to start off his full season debut with a strikeout, but he clearly wasn’t satisfied; “in the innings after that,” he continued, “ I kind of struggled to throw strikes and working ahead…a lot of 3-2 counts.”

He cruised through the next at bat before landing in his first full count of the night, which ended in a tough luck single on a hard grounder that was too hot to handle for third baseman Justin Lopez. By the subsequent at bat, it was evident that Gore’s fastball command wasn’t sharp, yet given the chilly temperature and the fact it was his first start of the year, it was not particularly disconcerting.   Dialing it up to 94-95 mph, Gore still managed to nab his second strikeout of the night at the hands of three swinging strikes (in six pitches) by Toronto’s number 18 prospect, Ryan Noda.

Gore began to mix in more of his repertoire in the second, but the command issues persisted as he frequently missed above the zone with the fastball and outside on the breaking ball.  Still, his inefficient performance shouldn’t obscure how untouchable his stuff looked during the first two innings that featured a whopping ten whiffs, including this one for his third wipeout of the day:

Entering the third inning with a 2-0 lead, Gore came out on the attack with his fastball sitting around 91 mph.  A seven pitch battle with the leadoff hitter resulted in a single on a soft grounder to second that Ruiz couldn’t nab as he ran forward to try and make a play.  Now, for whatever reason, Gore became intensely concerned about the runner on first even though he had only stole four bases in 2017, throwing to first six times while the next batter was at the plate.  As Gore did this, he struggled to hit his marks and eventually allowed a full-count single up the middle, placing runners on first and third with no outs.

Shortstop Kevin Smith whacked a deep shot to center, the only real hard contact off Gore all evening, that brought both runners home, but fortunately, Smith got caught trying to stretch it to third.

Visibly angered by giving up a couple of runs, Gore quickly and proficiently retired the next two batters to end the side, but having thrown 66 pitches (42 strikes) through the first three innings, he headed to the dugout for the duration of the game.  It’s easy to be disappointed by the short, yet solid start, but considering he only went four innings in three of seven starts last season, there’s nothing shocking or concerning about the 19 year old getting pulled this early.

Overall, Gore flashed the athleticism and ability to match the hype, and if it were a warmer atmosphere, he might have exhibited stronger command or seen the fastball climb closer to the 97-98 mph he touched this Spring.  Outside of the command issues, he simply needs to be more efficient and stay ahead in the count, as well as be less distracted by baserunners.

In his post-game interview (full video above), Gore flashed more of that fierce competitiveness, saying, “I felt alright.  My command wasn’t great today and I’ve got to be better.  We put up two runs in the second, and I got to be able to put up a zero in the third, especially you know because we’ve been struggling a bit.  I put it on me, lay it on me…we get up…I got to be able to put a zero up and keep the momentum on us.  We’re going to figure it out.  We’re gonna start winning.”

TinCaps’ manager Anthony Contreras was more pleased than Gore with his first action of year, elaborating, “I thought [Gore] threw the ball well for his first time out.  In his eyes, I’m guessing he thought he could have done better….but you know that’s the expectation from all of us and from him.  We all want him to go out there and dominate and compete, and I thought he did a really good job for his first time out there.  I think his command was maybe not as sharp as he wanted it.  He made some good pitches, the fastball looked good, and the curveball was there at times, so for his first outing, I think he has something build off of.”

If Fort Wayne continues to employ a six man rotation, Gore would be slated to make his second start on Tuesday night against the Great Lakes Loons.

Posted by Travis Barnett

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