MacKenzie Gore's offseason with a familiar roommate and a Rapsodo machine

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Originally published: The Sac Bunt Newsletter

PEORIA, Ariz. -- MacKenzie Gore returned from his second stint on the minor league disabled list Jun. 10 in Fort Wayne, Ind. A blister on his left middle finger forced him to be shut down twice in just over one month as the Padres cared for their 2017 first-round pick with caution.

In his 10 starts after returning, Gore posted a 2.46 FIP with a .178 batting average against across 40 innings. It seemed Gore had overcome the issue with his finger, but East Carolina University (ECU) head baseball coach Cliff Godwin sensed something unusual.

“When I would watch him at the end of last year, he didn’t have good command,” Godwin said. “I knew it wasn’t right, he was off… he just wasn’t putting the ball where he wants to put it.”

After Gore’s 13th start of the season Aug. 2, a silence formed around the Tin Caps in regard to Gore’s next start. Three weeks later, the Padres placed Gore on the minor league disabled list, effectively ending his season. After two bouts with blisters on his left middle finger, a fingernail issue on the same finger caused his third disabled list stint of 2018.

Godwin and Gore became friends after the left-hander committed to ECU July 2015, well before the Padres drafted him third overall. Their relationship developed during the 2017 offseason when Gore lived with Godwin in the top floor of his Greenville, N.C., home. The living situation worked so well, the two embarked on the same arrangement after his injury tattered 2018. The downtime gave Gore a chance to reflect on a trying season with his friend, mentor and roommate, and interact with a Rapsodo unit for the first time.

“People get put in your life for a reason,” Gore said. “And sometimes it’s just that one thing that’s said to you and it helps you get through adversity.”

Gore admits he fell into a “bad place” mentally as he battled finger issues. He frequently calls Godwin to discuss outings, but with his struggles early in 2018, one conversation veered into Gore feeling sorry for himself, as Godwin recalls.

In an attempt to spur Gore out of his funk, Godwin posed a question: did Gore think the path to the major leagues would be easy? Their conversation evolved into a motivational talk, with Godwin putting things in perspective for Gore and convincing the lefty he would overcome the obstacles in front of him.

“I’m sure he remembers the conversation because I was pretty stern because I love him,” Godwin said. “And he needed to hear that at that moment in time. I did feel for him, but you can’t feel sorry for yourself because it will just keep snowballing.”

“I grew up a lot last year,” Gore said.

Gore grew during the offseason as well. ECU purchased a Rapsodo machine for their baseball program last spring. This fall marked the start of their first full season with the device--a small black-and-red box that delivers instant data on everything from spin efficiency and spin axis to horizontal and vertical pitch movement. Gore works out and throws bullpens at ECU’s baseball facilities--a perk of living with Godwin--and learned from the revolutionary device for the first time in his young career.

Gore’s main interaction with the device occurred so the Padres could monitor various statistics from San Diego. He grew fond of the information after multiple uses, admitting he felt more comfortable with the data on his second and third bullpens pitching and digesting the information.

To Gore, the device is one of the many tools to make a pitcher better. He stressed “knowing yourself” before engaging with the unit. His top priority has not become the data.

“Execute the pitch and look at [the Rapsodo] after,” Gore said. “If you can execute the pitch and the mitt doesn’t move, that’s what you want.”

Godwin approaches the distribution of Rapsodo data to his players with caution. He worries at times about “paralysis by analysis” and how overloading young players with information in an effort to reinvent themselves can do more harm than good.

“If you spoon feed the information to them,” Godwin said. “And say, hey look, your fastball is doing this but we want it to kind of do this. If you could maneuver your fingers on the ball or whatever, then spoon-feeding the information might really help a pitcher out.”

When Gore reported to spring training in Peoria, Ariz., his interaction with the Rapsodo device increased, as it did for many other Padre pitchers. The device sat in between the mound and home plate for the majority of his intrasquad outings and bullpen sessions, feeding information and insights to the Padres player development staff. It will likely become a staple of spring training and minor league clubhouses in the years to come. Gore is now versed with the tool and plans to use it as a tool to refine the technical side of his game.

For 2019, Gore’s only goal is to take things one day at a time and execute his daily plan. He does not even consider staying healthy a goal. After a season of adversity and an offseason reflecting and growing in North Carolina, Gore heads to Padres High-A affiliate in Lake Elsinore with a hardened psyche.

“Now that I look back at [last season],” Gore said. “It could be the best thing that ever happened to me.”