Musgrove's velocity, health on point in return from IL

May 22nd, 2024

CINCINNATI -- The Padres kept expectations at a reasonable level when they activated right-hander in time to start the series opener in Cincinnati on Tuesday. He hadn’t pitched in three weeks, having battled inflammation in his elbow, and he used bullpen sessions to ramp up for his first start back rather than testing things out in a Minor League rehab outing.

All that is to say, a little rust in this one was probably to be expected. The big takeaway from Musgrove’s three-inning outing in the Padres’ 2-0 loss to the Reds? His pitches were sharp, the velocity was consistent and he came away from this outing feeling healthy and encouraged of what might come next.

“It was more about Joe getting on the mound in real competition after three weeks off and getting his feet back under him,” manager Mike Shildt said. “He’ll be better the next time out.”

It’s been a frustrating few weeks for the big right-hander, whose season seemed to be getting on track when the injury bug bit him. His prior outing, against this same Reds team in San Diego, was a good one -- six innings, nine strikeouts -- marking his third quality start in four games.

Musgrove’s second go-around vs. the Reds was less dominating, and much shorter. He yielded two unearned runs over three innings in Tuesday’s loss, an outing that doesn’t fit cleanly into the “good” or “poor” buckets most Major League starts fall into. This one was a little blurrier.

Musgrove’s velocity was around where it’s always been -- his four-seamer averaged 94.5 mph, exactly matching his season average -- but the first two innings produced a flurry of Reds baserunners, running up Musgrove’s pitch count. He had thrown 55 pitches after two innings; he was at 66 when he exited after the third frame.

“I felt like I was six, seven pitches to just about every guy,” Musgrove said. “Command-wise, I didn’t command the top of the zone well. I felt like I had a lot of guys in two-strike counts and wasn’t commanding the top of the zone well enough. [I was] trying to go up for chase, but too far up is not very appealing and doesn't set up well after that. Just not super efficient with pitches.”

The Reds scored both of their runs in the second inning, and Musgrove’s command was only partly to blame. The defense cost them, too. Musgrove made an errant pickoff throw that helped push two runners into scoring position, and a botched play at the plate led to the Reds’ first run.

Jurickson Profar, after catching a fly ball from Jacob Hurtubise, made an accurate throw to the plate. Catcher Luis Campusano, after putting a seemingly clean tag on Jonathan India, did not hold on to the ball.

“Just didn’t secure it well enough,” Campusano said. “He was definitely out, but …”

Musgrove ended his outing on a high note, retiring the side on 11 pitches in the third inning.

“We knew we wanted to be around 65 pitches,” Shildt said. “It was important for him to go back out. He said he felt good and really wanted to get back out. I said, ‘You’ve got 10 [pitches].’ He said, ‘I’ll get it done in nine.’ And it was 11. He was typical Joe, always looking to compete.”

“I felt like I started finding more rhythm later,” Musgrove said. “A little more efficient, maybe I could stretch it into five [innings]. I just ran out of pitches.”

The Padres were hoping for a better outcome when they opened their series with the struggling Reds, who had dropped 15 of 18 heading into this game. Having just captured three of four from the always-challenging Braves, the Padres -- who have been good on the road this year with a 15-10 record after Tuesday -- seemed in a good position to start the series off on a positive note.

But fatigue might have been a factor. The series in Atlanta concluded with a doubleheader on Monday, followed by a late arrival to Cincinnati that night. The team arrived to the hotel around 1:30 a.m. ET.

Those surveyed declined to use fatigue as an excuse, but Shildt acknowledged that it could have played a minor role.

“Am I going to say that the human factor doesn’t come into play occasionally? I’d be lying to you there,” he said. “Nobody wants to alibi anything. At the end of the day we weren’t good enough.

“But also the reality is, you play basically three games in 24 hours. … I can tell you the effort was there tonight. We just weren’t able to get it done.”