BRADENTON, Fla. -- There were doubts in Joe Musgrove’s mind as he went bounding off the mound in the third inning Friday night, sliding and spinning and trying to corral Austin Meadows’ softly hit grounder. Musgrove has made that play before -- a nearly identical one in Cleveland last July,
BRADENTON, Fla. -- There were doubts in Joe Musgrove’s mind as he went bounding off the mound in the third inning Friday night, sliding and spinning and trying to corral Austin Meadows’ softly hit grounder. Musgrove has made that play before -- a nearly identical one in Cleveland last July, actually -- but he wondered how his surgically repaired hip would hold up.
Meadows reached base safely, but Musgrove stood up feeling strong. The right-hander’s health was the most important takeaway from his solid Spring Training debut at LECOM Park. Musgrove allowed two runs on four hits and struck out five over four innings during the Pirates’ 6-6 tie with the Rays.
“Ultimately I’m happy that I’m coming out feeling healthy,” Musgrove said. “The hip was a concern once I get into an actual game, the intensity turning up and having to field bunt plays.”
Musgrove spent the last few weeks pitching to teammates and working in simulated games on back fields. On Friday, he got to work with catcher Francisco Cervelli and face another lineup for the first time since last September while starting the Pirates’ only night game of the spring.
“I felt really good. Getting some competition in an ‘A’ game is nice,” he said. “It’s a nice changeup after facing your own guys for a couple weeks. I got to go out there and work on some of the things that I worked on throughout the past couple weeks in these sim games.”
Musgrove will make two more appearances before starting the Pirates’ third game of the season on March 31 in Cincinnati. He wants to work on pitching at the top of the strike zone and going up-and-in on hitters, among other things. The good news for Musgrove is that he’s healthy enough to do so.
“Coming in this spring and being able to put good, conscious work in -- work that I know is leading somewhere, whereas last year I felt like my work was just trying to get through the day to make it to the next day,” Musgrove said. “It’s a lot better feeling this year knowing that I’m going in more prepared and in a better place."
Last spring, Musgrove was set back by a shoulder injury in Spring Training and didn’t make his season debut until May 25. He spent most of the spring trying to play catch-up. When he did pitch, he was in some pain. His year wound up being bookended by injuries, as he underwent abdominal surgery in October.
“It’s different from last spring, for sure,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The way he’s going, he showed up ready -- I think he’s always ready -- but he’s just focused, very intentional in everything he does from the time he shows up.”
Steve Blass Day
The Pirates honored retiring broadcaster Steve Blass during an on-field ceremony before Friday’s game. Bradenton mayor Wayne Poston read a proclamation declaring Friday to be Steve Blass Day, and the club officially renamed the home radio booth at LECOM Park as the “Steve Blass Radio Booth.” After addressing the crowd, Blass -- entering his 60th year with the Pirates -- threw out the ceremonial first pitch to special assistant Jeff Banister.
Around the horn
• Third baseman Jung Ho Kang hit his fifth home run of the spring, a solo shot to center field. Kang is batting just .200 in Grapefruit League play, but all five of his hits have been homers.
“He’s getting to see pitches that he hasn’t seen in a long time. He’s getting to see some that he hasn’t missed,” Hurdle said. “It’s a combination of the two.”
• Erik Gonzalez, competing for the starting shortstop job, went 3-for-3 and stole second base in the sixth inning.
• The Pirates have hit nine home runs in their last two games. Cervelli, Kang, Josh Bell and Starling Marte each went deep on Friday night.
• Closer Felipe Vazquez and setup man Keone Kela each pitched a scoreless inning. Vazquez hit 100 mph on the stadium radar gun and struck out three of the four hitters he faced. Kela picked up two strikeouts, one of them on the changeup he has been working to perfect all spring.
• Meadows, the former Pirates prospect, hit leadoff for the Rays. Before Musgrove’s first pitch, he tipped his helmet toward Pittsburgh’s dugout and shared a one-armed hug with Cervelli.
The Pirates could see a few old friends on Saturday as they head north to play the Tigers -- the new home of longtime Pittsburgh infielders Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison -- at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla. Right-hander Chris Archer is scheduled to start for the Bucs. Michael Feliz, Jake Barrett, Clay Holmes, Geoff Hartlieb and Brandon Waddell are also expected to pitch. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET. The game will air on KDKA-FM and the Pirates Radio Network.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.