Six starts into his California League career, MacKenzie Gore appears ready for a new challenge.
The second-ranked Padres prospect tossed five hitless frames, striking out seven, as Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore rolled to an 8-0 win over Lancaster on Sunday at The Hanger. The Storm came within six outs of the franchise's first no-hitter, but Sean Bouchard lined a leadoff single to left field in the eighth.
Video: Lake Elsinore's Gore tosses five hitless frames
Missing out on a shot at history did nothing to detract from MLB.com's No. 14 overall prospect and his dominant start to the season.
"My fastball has been working really well thus far," Gore said. "It's been a lot of fun and I'm in a good spot right now. I've always had the stuff [to pitch this well], but I needed to find the command of all four pitches and put it together. The key is to keep throwing strikes."
Coming off a career-high 11-strikeout performance on Monday against Rancho Cucamonga, Gore (3-0) picked up where he left off by fanning two in a perfect opening frame. The southpaw added a punchout in the second, two more in the third and a pair in the fifth, including his last batter. Gore retired the side in order in each inning but the fourth, when he walked two, and was lifted after throwing 47 of 74 pitches for strikes.
Gameday box score
"It's tough to come out, but I know where I stand with things," the North Carolina native said. "If I don't walk those two guys, then I'd pitch the sixth, so it's on me -- that's the way I think about it. But I need to just go out there, do my thing and when they take the ball from me, that's that. I want to keep getting better every time out."
It was the third scoreless outing in six starts for the 20-year-old, who has a 45-to-6 strikeouts-to-walk ratio and a California League-leading 1.15 ERA over 31 1/3 innings. He's yielded three hits or fewer in each of his last five starts after giving up four hits over five innings in his season debut on April 5. After holding Lancaster's league-best offense in check, Gore lowered his circuit-leading WHIP and opponents' batting average to 0.67 and .143, respectively.
"The hitters are older and more experienced here, but if you execute you'll get outs wherever you are," he said. "If I execute my pitches I won't have to worry about who's in the box. The key is just being me out there. If I can get into a good rhythm and concentrate on what I need to do and not try and do more than that, I'll be fine. If I try for more, that's when I'll get into trouble."
Video: Lancaster's Bouchard breaks up no-hitter
The third overall pick in the 2017 Draft had a solid, albeit injury-plagued 2018 season. Gore made 16 starts for Class A Fort Wayne and went 2-5 with a 4.45 ERA, striking out 74 over 60 2/3 innings, but was placed on the injured list three times -- twice with a blister issue on the middle finger of his pitching hand.
"It's great to be on this type of run, but it also helps to be able to spin the ball," he said. "The issues I had last year kept me from throwing my curve consistently for strikes, which is something I'm doing this year. It's made a big difference."
2019 MiLB include
Steven Wilson fanned three over two perfect frames in relief of Gore and handed the ball to Fred Schlichtholz, who surrendered consecutive singles to begin the eighth. He worked out of trouble by fanning two before Elliot Ashbeck completed Lake Elsinore's league-leading third shutout by striking out two in the ninth.
Jalen Washington, who was 4-for-37 with no extra-base hits and three RBIs in his first 12 games this season, homered twice and drove in a career-high four runs while equaling his personal best with three hits. Padres No. 18 prospect Luis Campusano chipped in two hits and an RBI, while Taylor Kohlwey went 3-for-3 with an RBI triple for his fifth consecutive multi-hit effort and third straight three-hit game.
JetHawks starter Antonio Santos (1-2) allowed season highs of five runs and 11 hits while striking out two in four innings.