Musgrove wraps '21: 'Got the best out of me'

October 3rd, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- If nothing else, the 2021 Padres were an erratic team, prone to major fluctuations in their performance throughout the year. Lots of injuries. Little consistency.

was the antithesis of all that.

In the Padres’ 3-2 victory over the Giants in 10 innings at Oracle Park on Saturday afternoon, Musgrove put a nice cap on his extraordinarily steady 2021 campaign. He pitched five innings of one-run ball before he was removed for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth, essentially setting his numbers in stone.

Musgrove, who was acquired in a five-player trade with the Pirates in mid-January, posted a 3.18 ERA. He struck out 203 hitters and walked just 54. Perhaps most important, Musgrove was the only pitcher in a beleaguered Padres rotation who didn’t miss a turn.

“I think I’m most proud of just posting up and taking the ball every fifth day,” Musgrove said. “That’s half the battle.”

The Padres’ victory Saturday prevented the Giants from clinching the NL West title, at least for the moment. A Dodgers loss Saturday night or Sunday, or a Giants win in the series finale Sunday, would end Los Angeles’ eight-year grip on the division.

“It’s nice to delay a celebration,” said manager Jayce Tingler.

Musgrove, the Padres' Roberto Clemente Award nominee, certainly posted his share of highlights this season. Most notable, of course, he recorded the franchise's first no-hitter on April 9, a performance that will forever endear him to a fan base that had been desperately awaiting that moment.

Musgrove was similarly dominant at several other points this season. When the Padres were struggling in late August, he delivered a gem in Anaheim, his second shutout of the season. When the Padres needed length out of their bullpen in May, he pitched five no-hit innings in relief in Houston. On five separate occasions, Musgrove struck out at least 10 hitters.

The highlights are plentiful. But they aren't what Musgrove was craving out of this season. He'd been dominant at times in the past. He had never put it all together over the course of a full season like this one. In 2021, Musgrove set career highs in innings, strikeouts, ERA and WAR.

“It’s by far the best that I’ve pitched, the most consistently I’ve pitched for a full season,” Musgrove said, then went on to nitpick his performance, noting that there’s plenty of “room for improvement.”

Maybe. But the Padres will certainly take this version of Musgrove going forward. He leaned heavily into his dominant breaking pitches and said he adjusted his mental approach to better fit the grind of a big league season. Six years into his career, he says, he’s still learning.

“A part of it is just experience,” Musgrove said. “I’ve gotten to experience the big league level from the bullpen, from the starting rotation, from a 100-loss team to a 100-win team. I’ve gotten a little bit of everything in the five years that I’ve played.

“It’s really just trying to evaluate a season as they come to an end and pick the few things that added a lot of value to my season into my routine, and continue to grow in the offseason.”

On Saturday, Musgrove exited with the Padres trailing by a run. They didn’t begin playing the role of spoiler until after his exit. tied the game in the sixth inning, driving in Adam Frazier, who had pinch-hit for Musgrove, with a single. Machado tied it again in the eighth with a sacrifice fly. Then, in the 10th, ’s RBI double proved decisive.

It comes as little consolation. The Giants are still where the Padres hoped they would be on the season’s final weekend -- squarely in the postseason, with a shot at a division title. The Padres, meanwhile, improved to 79-82 by snapping a seven-game losing streak. They’re destined for a shakeup this winter. The only question is: How big?

Musgrove, on the other hand, is one of a few pieces that provide a steady foundation for next season, at the very least. But 2022 marks his final year before free agency. There will almost certainly be chatter about a possible extension this winter. The possibility of that happening remains unclear.

Here’s what is clear: Musgrove, an El Cajon native, loves pitching in San Diego for the team he grew up loving.

“I think my results speak for the way I felt about it,” Musgrove said. “You guys got the best out of me every fifth day. It kind of re-sparked my love for the game. Not to say that I didn’t love my time in Pittsburgh. But being back in a competitive atmosphere with big-game players … it’s easy to get up for those games.”