PITTSBURGH -- Through all his April highs and May lows, Joe Musgrove had consistently kept the ball in the park this season. The right-hander took the mound on Thursday night having allowed two home runs in his first 59 innings.
With a few big swings, the Brewers ended that narrative. Musgrove battled through six innings but allowed three home runs among the 11 hits he served up in the Pirates’ 11-5 loss at PNC Park. After posting a 1.54 ERA in March and April, Musgrove finished May with an 8.10 ERA in six starts.
“It’s really hard to work when you’re behind in the count. I don’t get the same swings,” Musgrove said. “That’s where it all starts, then the execution with two strikes. I’m getting guys to two strikes, then not making good pitches.”
Musgrove threw a first-pitch strike to only seven of the 17 hitters he faced in the first three innings. He fell behind Mike Moustakas with two outs in the first inning, and Moustakas launched a 2-1 changeup out to right-center field. Musgrove fell behind Christian Yelich in the second inning before the reigning National League MVP Award winner ripped a 1-0 cutter to right-center for an RBI triple.
Moustakas launched a 2-1 slider into the right-field seats to begin the third, and then Yasmani Grandal ripped a first-pitch fastball off the left-field foul pole to make it back-to-back homers.
It was the third time in his career that Musgrove allowed three home runs in a single outing; he gave up a trio of homers for the Astros on Aug. 18, 2016, and June 23, 2017. Those were three of the 11 hard-hit balls Musgrove allowed, according to Statcast, as Milwaukee punished him for leaving too many pitches up and over the plate.
“The in-zone spin probably got hurt more than any, whether it was the slider, back-door cutter,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “The left-handed attack gave us some big challenges. It was an uphill battle for the first three innings.”
It’s typically a good sign when Musgrove completes six innings, as he did so in seven of his first 10 starts and posted a 1.75 ERA in those outings, and there were some silver linings as he finished Thursday’s outing with three scoreless innings. He got ahead of seven of the final 12 hitters he faced, exempting an intentional walk that helped him get out of the fifth unscathed.
Musgrove eased the stress on Pittsburgh’s weary bullpen by throwing 102 pitches to get through the sixth. His only 1-2-3 inning was his last, as he retired Ben Gamel, Yelich and Lorenzo Cain in the sixth without a ball escaping the infield.
“I’m a competitor, man. I’m going to give you everything I have until you take the ball away,” Musgrove said. “I still made a few mistakes, but I think when I’m executing pitches more often than not, I’ll get away with some more pitches than I did early in the game.”
Here are three more takeaways from Thursday’s lopsided loss, the 10th time in their last 11 games that the Bucs have allowed at least five runs.
Bell bound for the record books
Josh Bell might not want this month to end, but he has one more day to make history. He joined some elite company when he knocked a bloop double to left in the second inning.
Bell tied Paul Waner's club record for the most extra-base hits in any month of the season, with 24. He tied Ralph Kiner's club record for the most total bases (92) in any month. He became the third player in NL history with at least 12 doubles and at least 12 home runs in any month, joining Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson (both in July 1961) on a very exclusive list.
What do all those players have in common? They’re all in the Hall of Fame.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch him go up there,” shortstop Kevin Newman said. “Every time he steps up to the plate, it’s, ‘Pay attention. JB’s up. Something’s going to happen.’”
New man atop the lineup
With Newman surging and Adam Frazier struggling, the Pirates shuffled their lineup. Hurdle dropped Frazier down to the eighth spot in the lineup and bumped up Newman, the hot-hitting rookie shortstop, to the top of the order.
Frazier finished 0-for-3 in his first game this season starting anywhere other than the leadoff spot, and Newman went 1-for-5. It won’t be the last time Newman finds his name atop Hurdle’s lineup card.
“We’re going to go ahead and give it some legs. When Newman’s scheduled to play, we want to run him up top now,” Hurdle said. “It’s a different look for Adam, which I think is important right now.”
Home runs continue to be an issue for Rodriguez, who has allowed nine in 26 appearances this season.
“He had some traction coming into this,” Hurdle said, referring to the right-hander’s 1 2/3 clean innings in Cincinnati earlier this week. “It just goes to show you the fine line. He had some success. A couple different pitch locations there, who knows how that inning plays out? It just went the wrong way.”