PITTSBURGH -- Last weekend in San Francisco, veteran infielder David Freese was talking about Joe Musgrove and the Pirates' young rotation. He stopped in the middle of a sentence, laughed and said simply, "We love Joe on the mound, man." The Bucs showed it on Saturday night, and it was easy to understand why they feel that way.
After being shut out in a pair of one-run losses the past two days, the Pirates backed up Musgrove's seven-inning gem and snapped their five-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Cubs at PNC Park.
"I just love how competitive he is. He's dominant," said left fielder Corey Dickerson, who led the lineup with three hits and a walk. "You want that guy on the mound, because you know he's going to compete."
Like Ivan Nova and Trevor Williams the past two nights, Musgrove's only blemish was a solo home run. Benjamin Zobrist took him deep to right field in the third inning. Musgrove otherwise mowed down Chicago's lineup, striking out seven while allowing only five hits on 87 pitches.
After finishing last season in the Astros' bullpen, Musgrove has established himself as one of the Pirates' most consistent starters. He has pitched at least seven innings in five of his last six starts and put together a 2.52 ERA over his last eight outings, lowering his ERA on the year to 3.31.
"We've been throwing the ball really well. As starters, we feel like we're going out and giving us an opportunity to win," Musgrove said. "Being able to follow two solid performances by Nova and Trevor with another good one, and get us a win, is hopefully going to set things off in the right direction."
The 25-year-old right-hander consistently got ahead of hitters, throwing a first-pitch strike to 18 of the 27 he faced, then used everything in his deep arsenal to silence the Cubs lineup. He mixed low sinkers with four-seam fastballs up in the zone. He leaned heavily on his slider in the early going, throwing the pitch 23 times, and turned to his changeup in the later innings. The Cubs swung and missed at six of the 18 changeups he threw.
"His secondary pitches were top-shelf tonight, especially the changeup late," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The changeup late was a swing-and-miss pitch, a separator, made his fastball play, enhanced everything else that he brought to the table."
The only difference between Musgrove on Saturday, Williams on Friday and Nova on Thursday? Run support, oddly enough, considering Pittsburgh had only won two of Musgrove's previous six starts.
It all came in one inning against right-hander Tyler Chatwood, starting for the Cubs in place of injured lefty Mike Montgomery. Josh Bell and Francisco Cervelli began the second with a pair of walks against Chatwood, who leads the Majors by a wide margin with 93 walks this season. Up came second baseman Adam Frazier, making his first start since Wednesday.
Frazier fell behind Chatwood then lined an 0-2 changeup to center field, driving in Bell and ending the Pirates' 24-inning scoreless streak. The bottom of the order padded Pittsburgh's lead with a pair of productive outs, as Colin Moran's grounder to first base brought home Cervelli and Frazier scored on a sacrifice fly by Adeiny Hechavarria.
"I feel like we've done a better job lately. Even the last couple days, even though we haven't scored runs, there's been some solid at-bats," Dickerson said. "As long as you keep working, you'll outwork any slump."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Leading man: Dickerson had struggled since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 4, batting just .188 with a .404 OPS over his previous 13 games. But if Saturday was any indication, the Pirates' dynamic leadoff hitter is rounding back into form.
Dickerson slapped a single to left in his first at-bat, walked in the third, singled to right in the fifth and capped his night with a seventh-inning double to center.
"He's gotten in a better place. He can hit," Hurdle said. "Sometimes you go through cycles. All hitters do. I love the way he shows up every day. He always feels that today's the day he's going to get something done special. He was able to give us a big shot in the arm up top."
Musgrove picked up his first win at PNC Park since May 30, his second start of the season, when he also held the Cubs to one run over seven innings. Musgrove is just 5-7 on the year despite owning the best ERA and WHIP in Pittsburgh's rotation.
"I like to win when I get my chance to pitch," Musgrove said, "but I'm going out there and I feel like I'm giving us a chance to win, which is kind of all I can ask for."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Pirates often rave about Musgrove's athleticism in addition to his work on the mound. It was on display in the fifth inning, when he dropped a bunt against reliever Jesse Chavez and beat Willson Contreras' throw to first base. Musgrove was initially called out, but the ruling was overturned after the Pirates challenged it.
Why did Musgrove bunt with one out and nobody on? He said he got jammed so badly in his second-inning at-bat that he couldn't swing again. So he told bench coach Tom Prince, "I'm going to bunt or something." Prince gave him the go-ahead, so Musgrove asked Josh Harrison where he should aim his bunt.
Contreras -- who had just bunted for a hit against Musgrove in the fifth -- got to the ball first, but too late.
"So we're even, I guess," Musgrove said, smiling.
Right-hander Jameson Taillon will start for the Pirates as they wrap up a four-game series against the Cubs on Sunday at PNC Park. Taillon is 7-5 with a 3.15 ERA over his last 14 starts since May 27, and he's pitched at least six innings in six of his last seven starts. Left-hander Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. ET.