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Gore, Patiño fuel friendship with fire

Top Padres pitching prospects motivate each other toward Majors
MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño combined to record 258 strikeouts across two levels in 2019. (John Moore/Amarillo Sod Poodles)
March 6, 2020

PEORIA, Arizona -- When it comes to describing himself, MacKenzie Gore isn't much of a talker. He's reserved and more than a bit modest, his rather stoic personality not shedding much light on his emotions. That quickly changes when you bring up Luis Patiño. 

PEORIA, Arizona -- When it comes to describing himself, MacKenzie Gore isn't much of a talker. He's reserved and more than a bit modest, his rather stoic personality not shedding much light on his emotions. 
That quickly changes when you bring up Luis Patiño

The unlikely friendship of a kid from Wilmington, North Carolina, and a Colombian native who didn't speak much English started when San Diego selected Gore straight from high school with the third overall pick in the 2017 Draft and sent him to Rookie ball in Arizona. One week later Patiño, whom the Padres signed as an international free agent in 2016, moved to the AZL from the Dominican Summer League. The pair connected almost instantly.
The Padres' top two pitching prospects both opened the 2018 season with Class A Fort Wayne, then carved up the California League last year before finishing the season at Double-A level and winning a Texas League title. They also debuted in their first big league camp this spring, both as non-roster invitees. And to top it off, the pair will likely be under strong consideration to join the Major League rotation at some point this season. 
"It's awesome," said Gore, the No. 5 overall prospect entering the 2020 season. "My first taste of pro ball was with him and we've been up together the whole time."
"He's my best friend here," Patiño echoed with a grin. 
A brotherly relationship is the easiest way for the duo to describe how impactful the other has been in their lives. They embrace a mutual understanding of supporting one another but with a determination to push each other to surpass their sky-high expectations. They're hungry not just to make the big leagues, but to dominate upon their arrival. To prepare for that, they've delved into the highest level of competition they could find -- each other. 
"Playing with him in all levels is like we're pushing each other to be better, every single day," said Patiño. "We (joke) over who plays better, who had the best week, but it's helpful. We push each other and support each other on what we need to work on every day."
It was a former pitching coach, Pete Zamora -- who worked with both pitchers last season with Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore -- who coined the "brothers" phrase. 
"He said we were brothers because we were always arguing or one-upping each other," Patiño laughed. "But (Gore's) like a brother because we talk about baseball, life, everything. He always gives me advice on what I need. At the same time, when I know he needs something from me or advice, we talk."
They're both described as fierce competitors, but the duels between the duo never turn negative. Their competitive nature stems from who they are as athletes, but Gore is the first to say it's a healthy competition, not an ill-willed one. 
"We push each other, but it's never been like that," Gore said. "I want him to be great every time he goes out, and he expects me to be great. So we pull for each other, and we push each other. We've done a good job of not butting heads over the competition thing."
Members of the Padres player development staff tend to agree. The general consensus is while either hurler would be more than fit to stand alone, their strong bond adds an immeasurable component to their repertoire. 
"Any time you get into professional baseball, those first few people you meet a lot of times make lasting bonds and relationships," said Steve Lyons, the Padres' director of pitching development. "When you have super-talented athletes who are ultra-competitive, you want to surround yourself with like-minded people. They both understand that they can make each other better by pushing each other."
Such was this case last summer when Gore made mincemeat out of the California League circuit. The southpaw steamrolled his way to a 7-1 record, stifling opposing batters with a 12.48 K/9 ratio and limiting them to a mere .137 average before being promoted to Double-A in early July. Patiño started solid over the first three months of the season, carding a 3.19 ERA and whiffing 58 batters in 59 1/3 frames. However, the Padres wanted Patiño to improve a bit more his command and his off-speed pitches before advancing him. He responded by firing a 1.19 ERA over 22 2/3 innings in July, which resulted in the right-hander joining the Sod Poodles in early August.
There was little doubt that the competitive nature between the two brought in some added incentive. 
"(Luis) and MacKenzie have a tremendous relationship," said director of player development Sam Geaney back in December. "They feed off each other. They compete against each other. We saw that this year, hopefully we get to see that in San Diego in years to come." 
That scenario could happen sooner rather than later. While odds are slim that either will appear on the Padres' Opening Day roster, neither is far from his highly anticipated Major League debut. The stakes are high, and the pressure insurmountable -- especially for a franchise such as San Diego's, which hasn't finished higher than third in its division in a decade. 

But the two have lived up to the hype before. They've stayed even-keeled when presented with new challenges. The tests will undoubtedly get tougher as they face big league hitters this spring, but just like in previous steps of their careers, they'll have each other to help push through. 
"I think they truly care a lot about each other," Lyons said. "They root for each other. Seeing them compete, work together, they bring out the best in each other."
Patiño and Gore will face a ton of uncertainty in the next few months. One thing that can be for certain, though, is their unwavering support for each other. The two have dreamed about making it to the Majors together since their rookie season, and they know the time is closing in. 
"Maybe he's the first one (to go) to the rotation, maybe I'm the first one, but that's not important," Patiño said. "We play together, we play for the same team, and we want to win a championship with the same team. I want to play with him for the rest of my career." 
Based on the duo's history so far, chances are the Padres want that, too. 

Katie Woo is a contributor to Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.