SURPRISE, Ariz. — After spending two months working on the side in Arizona trying to incorporate mechanical changes and regain control that, for the first time in his career escaped him, MacKenzie Gore made his return to the mound with the Padres’ rookie league club.
While evaluating Gore’s start purely on his stats would be a fool’s errand, since the 22-year-old lefty was pitching for Triple-A El Paso in June, today was an important first step for a talented pitcher who hadn’t faced competition since June 18. The results should be considered a successful start to getting Gore back on track.
His somewhat unexpected return to game action aptly happened in the Phoenix suburb of Surprise, where the Kansas City Royals make their spring home, and their pair of Complex League teams play.
Gore already had a 3-0 lead when he took the mound. If the lefty needed a reminder of the level, it came when, following 2021 first-rounder Jackson Merrill‘s single, his teammates plated three runs on a pair of errors and a wild pitch.
As for Gore, he set the tone early. After the leadoff batter flew out, Gore struck out the second batter he faced. The next batter would connect on a double, but Gore ended the inning on a positive with a swinging strikeout.
In 4.2 innings, Gore did everything you would hope to see in a tuneup: he struck out eight while allowing a run on two hits. Crucially he walked only one, though did hit a batter. He stayed ahead in counts and located the fastball mostly to his liking. The slider appeared tighter and more precisely located than this spring, and he did show a deceiving changeup, though he did not need to use it much against Complex League competition. That will be something to watch for more as Gore works his way back to more appropriate levels.
Gore’s fastball sat mostly in the 92-95 mph range, looking much the same as we had seen it before, an encouraging sign since most of the rest of MacKenzie Gore seemed different in this game. Gone is the extreme leg kick of the past, replaced with a more moderate delivery to the plate.
After walking 12 batters in 20 innings in El Paso, seeing Gore attack the zone and stay ahead in counts was the best sign of progress for the evening. Gore’s lone walk came in his fifth and final inning of work and was one of the few time he fell behind in the count.
It’s certainly worth remembering Gore’s start came against competition mostly composed of players making their professional debuts, but the takeaway is that MacKenzie Gore has returned to actual game action, and he has done so with a new delivery, and so far the results are what could be hoped for.
After Gore departed the game, Trey Wingenter pitched a dominant inning of relief in the sixth for the win. Wingenter made the second scoreless appearance of his rehab assignment and collected his first win of the season. Wingenter last pitched for the Padres on September 20th, 2019. The save belonged to 2021 sixth-round pick Ryan Bergert, who kept pace with Wingenter, dominating the seventh with two strikeouts. Bergert, a West Virginia product, has yet to allow a run in two innings of work, striking out two and posting a 0.50 WHIP. The lefty had elbow surgery last winter and didn’t pitch during the college season.
Jared Alvarez-Lopez went 3-for-4 at the plate with a double and a run scored and also worked an impressive game behind the plate. The 2019 17th-round pick out of Cypress, Texas is slashing .270/.324/.365 in 2021. The big hit of the night was a home run to deep left off the bat of Marcos Castanon. Castanon was the Padres’ 12th round pick in July out of UC Santa Barbara.
Undrafted free agent Justin Farmer made his professional debut, walking in two plate appearances. He and 15th-rounder Anthony Vilar were officially added to the active roster on Thursday, leaving just two players drafted or signed in July remaining to officially get underway.