ST. LOUIS -- After his last start, Joe Musgrove said he was moving in the right direction and made his destination clear: "I've still got a long ways to go for me to be among the elite pitchers in the game."For now, Musgrove is looking to keep proving himself in
ST. LOUIS -- After his last start, Joe Musgrove said he was moving in the right direction and made his destination clear: "I've still got a long ways to go for me to be among the elite pitchers in the game."
For now, Musgrove is looking to keep proving himself in his first full season as a starter. The Pittsburgh right-hander struck out eight and sandwiched a brilliant stretch between a pair of two-run innings in the Pirates' 11-5 loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, an outing that put some of the strides Musgrove has made this year on display.
"We like playing behind him. We like it when he's on the mound," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We just didn't get the result we wanted tonight for him or for us."
The Pirates' middle-relief corps gave up seven runs after Musgrove exited. Pittsburgh put together a four-run rally in the ninth, but it was too little and too late to avoid its 11th loss in 18 games against the Cardinals this year. The Pirates' National League Wild Card elimination number has reached single digits, as any combination of nine losses or St. Louis wins will officially remove Pittsburgh from the postseason race.
The Pirates' focus this month is set squarely on next season and beyond, and one of the brightest spots of that future should be their rotation. Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams have pitched well in their second full seasons. Chris Archer brought his top-of-the-rotation stuff from Tampa Bay at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. And Musgrove, a career-high 18 starts into his first season in Pittsburgh, is becoming a more well-rounded pitcher each time he takes the mound.
"He's going to push himself harder than I think a lot of other people would push him," Hurdle said. "He's more mindful of what he wants to accomplish and what he believes he's capable of accomplishing."
St. Louis immediately got to Musgrove. Matt Carpenter walked and Jose Martinez singled in the first inning and both scored on Marcell Ozuna's double to left field. After that, Musgrove efficiently retired 14 straight Cardinals.
"Even an outing like today," Musgrove said, "where you give up runs early in the game, it's something I can really build on and build layers and grow as a pitcher and learn to grind through an outing when you can't really afford to give up many more."
After the start of his season was delayed by a shoulder strain, Musgrove pitched well in his first few starts using a game plan built around his fastball. He is now admittedly searching for his fastball command and looking for more life on his sinker, but he has developed different plans of attack. On Tuesday, he threw more changeups (24) than four-seam fastballs (22) and more sliders (19) than sinkers (17).
"The more you see these guys, you've got to try to find different ways to get them out," Musgrove said after his third start of the season against the Cardinals. "You'd like to have your best fastball and your best command every day, but it's not always going to be there. I think I did a really good job of adjusting."
Musgrove cruised into the sixth having thrown 61 pitches, but the Cardinals capitalized on a few mistakes. With one out and the bases loaded, Carpenter scored on a wild pitch -- a changeup that bounced away from Francisco Cervelli -- and Martinez jogged home when Paul DeJong lofted a down-and-in slider to center field for a sacrifice fly.
"It's a competitive outing," Hurdle said. "He very well could have deserved a little better line as well."
Down by four after six innings, the Pirates turned to Steven Brault and four September callups who haven't pitched since rejoining the bullpen. It took three relievers -- Michael Feliz, Brault and Tanner Anderson -- to get through the seventh while allowing one run. Then Nick Burdi and Clay Holmes allowed a combined six runs on six hits in the eighth.
"These guys are running into two weeks where you don't pitch when you've been up. That's not healthy for anybody," Hurdle said. "The opportunity presented itself. … They needed to touch the ball. They needed to get in play."
The Pirates threw three wild pitches on the night -- one each by Musgrove, Anderson and Holmes. That bumped the Bucs' total for the year to 88, the most in the Majors and a modern-era franchise record. Since 2000, only four teams have thrown more than 88 wild pitches in a season: the 2009 Royals (89), '12 Rockies (94), '00 Reds (96) and '16 Astros (98).
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
Burdi, a Rule 5 Draft pick who spent most of the season finishing his recovery from Tommy John surgery, made his Major League debut in the eighth inning. The 25-year-old rookie right-hander, Pittsburgh's No. 20 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, allowed four runs (three earned) and recorded one out. Burdi gave up a single and a walk, then Francisco Pena reached when Colin Moran booted a potential double-play grounder. Tyler O'Neill then launched a three-run homer to left field.
"He put himself in a position for us to end the inning. We got a ground ball that could have been turned into a double play. We weren't able to convert it," Hurdle said. "Unfortunately, you don't make a quality pitch on the other end, and the guy hits the ball in the seats.
"But it's a win, for him getting back and pitching in a big league game, plus there's going to be a little sting to it. He's going to be looking to get the ball again and do a little better job."
HE SAID IT
"It was pretty neat for us to see that in the lineup, then obviously to do it out there was cool, too. The only difference is sometimes you can't hear each other as much as you can in the Minor Leagues. That's something that we're going to have to figure out a little bit." -- Kevin Kramer, on he and Kevin Newman making their first start together
• Kramer, Newman step in for Pirates
Taillon will take the mound as the Pirates wrap up a three-game series on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. Taillon has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 18 straight starts, posting a 2.88 ERA during that stretch. He will face Cardinals right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon, with first pitch scheduled for 1:15 p.m. ET.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.