In the early goings of spring training, MacKenzie Gore has been impressive. Could he make the Padres Opening Day rotation?
It’s been four years in the making, but there is a level of certainty that MacKenzie Gore will make his big league debut with the Padres in 2021. The question is will he make the Opening Day rotation? The former third overall pick in 2017 missed all of the 2020 minor league season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gore made five starts at the Double-A level to close out the 2019 season.
He already has two spring training starts under his belt in 2021 as well. The first looked like the 22-year-old hadn’t pitched in live-game action in quite some time, tossing two innings while fanning two but walking three. On Wednesday, the results were better, as Gore needed 46 pitches to get through two innings, allowing two earned runs while fanning four and walking just one.
“We got into some counts there not very good in the second [inning],” a modest Gore said following Wednesday’s start. “I thought it was better than the last one, but there’s definitely still some work to do.”
MacKKKKenzie Gore: pic.twitter.com/yPA8IwWSY4
— 97.3 The Fan (@973TheFanSD) March 11, 2021
On paper, the top four spots in the Padres rotation appear to be set. The fifth spot would seem to be Joe Musgrove‘s spot to lose. However, a strong spring training for MacKenzie Gore could have the Padres coaching staff changing their minds.
There’s actually some evidence to support Musgrove potentially being a better asset as a reliever. In 37.2 innings throughout his career, the San Diego native owns a 1.19 ERA in 25 appearances with a better K/9 and WHIP than in a starter’s role. Musgrove has a career 4.59 ERA from the rotation. He was an above-average pitcher in the shortened 2020 campaign, spinning a 3.86 ERA in eight starts.
Of course, Gore is one of three youngsters vying for a roster spot, much less the rotation. Fellow left-handers in Ryan Weathers and Adrian Morejon are two players that could see time at the big league level, but unlike Gore, both players already have some MLB experience. Weathers’ big league experience is minimal, making his debut in the 2020 postseason. Adrian Morejon appeared in 14 games – including six starts – split between the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
“We’ve been around each other a lot, especially the last couple of years,” Gore said of his relationship with the other two. “Really, we just pull for each other and work out together.”
Padres manager Jayce Tingler discussed the log-jam of younger pitchers on the roster and indicated the franchise wouldn’t hold anyone back. With a top-four rotation of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Dinelson Lamet, and Chris Paddack, there are limited options for the likes of Gore and others. The bullpen is potentially one avenue, but room is sparse there as well.
It’s worth noting, but it won’t happen. Joe Musgrove has two minor league options available, should the trio of youngsters all present an overwhelming case. However, the best scenario, should Gore make the Opening Day rotation, is Musgrove transitioning into a swingman role from the bullpen with Weathers and Morejon beginning the season in the minor leagues.
From there, Tingler will be responsible for making the pieces of the puzzle fit.