February 2, 2023

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The Padre who could be Rookie of the Year

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This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Joe Musgrove and MacKenzie Gore were excellent over the weekend, as the Padres completed a rare sweep of the Giants in San Francisco — their first since 2016. Gore, who won on Sunday, is an early contender for National League Rookie of the Year. Musgrove, who won on Saturday, is an early contender for NL Cy Young.

Don’t be surprised if Gore finds himself in the latter discussion at some point in his career. He has impressed in many facets during his rookie season, currently with a 2.06 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 35 innings. But here’s one unusual area in which Gore has impressed Musgrove: his questions.

In Gore’s eyes, Musgrove — and the rest of the Padres’ veteran-laden rotation, for that matter — offers a treasure trove of information to be mined. Gore is constantly seeking that information.

“You get rookies that come up, and they ask questions sometimes just for the sake of asking them, and there’s not really a point other than they want you to know that they’re asking some [nonsense] question,” Musgrove said. “He’s got good questions, man. He really is trying to adapt to the game fast. You see it in the results. The things we talk about, he takes it all to heart, and he incorporates it into his game and into his game plan.”

Indeed, Gore and Musgrove spend plenty of time together — on the field pregame, in the dugout during the game. Much of that time is simply Gore asking Musgrove “real questions.”

So what makes a real question? They need to be specific questions, Musgrove says. They need to be honest questions.

Gore, for instance, wants to know how Musgrove would navigate a certain part of a certain lineup. He wants to know the intricacies of Musgrove’s routine between starts almost down to the minute — the recovery, the strengthening, the way he game-plans for the next opponent.

Sometimes it’s simpler. Like when Gore walks the leadoff hitter — as he did in the fourth inning Sunday, after a long top half of the inning — he wants to know what, exactly, Musgrove does mentally to prevent that complacency.

“Little things like that, those are so important,” Musgrove said. “How to handle the mental side of it. Because he’s got all the physical ability in the world.”

Gore doesn’t make too much of it. The questions come naturally, he says. He’s sharing a rotation with one of the best pitchers in the National League, after all. Why wouldn’t he be asking those questions?

“He’s a pro, he prepares well, he does a lot of work to be ready for starts,” Gore said. “His foot’s always on the gas, always trying to get better. … It’s been awesome to just be able to be around him and watch him. He’s a good teammate. And I think there’s a lot of similarities, in the way me and him are trying to compete. So it’s cool to be able to learn from him.”

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