PITTSBURGH -- When the power went out at Joe Musgrove's apartment on Monday night, he called Francisco Cervelli. His catcher took him in, offering homemade arepas, Venezuelan food and hours of conversation. Musgrove didn't feel right on the mound as he gave up nine runs over his two previous starts, so they talked through possible solutions.
When Musgrove walked out of the bullpen on Tuesday night, he called on Cervelli again. He didn't like his fastball command or movement, and he is usually at his best when his game plan revolves around his fastball. His catcher took charge, guiding Musgrove through a strong 6 1/3-inning start in the Pirates' 7-3 win over the Reds at PNC Park.
"I can't say enough about Cervelli," Musgrove said. "I learned a lot from Cervelli tonight, and he deserves a lot of credit."
Musgrove struck out eight and allowed only two runs as Pittsburgh improved to 11-4 against Cincinnati this season and clinched its first series victory since Aug. 6-8 in Colorado. Musgrove induced weak contact and whiffs as he breezed through six innings on 79 pitches, but Cervelli helped him find a different way to do it.
Musgrove has had success this season by establishing his fastball early, then unleashing his offspeed pitches later. Knowing Musgrove didn't have his best fastball out of the gate on Tuesday, Cervelli called for changeups and sliders earlier than usual. That left the Reds off-balance in the later innings, when Musgrove was able to fire high fastballs past them.
"It's another way for me to attack a lineup without having to force pitches that I don't really have at the time," Musgrove said.
The Reds swung and missed on 17 of his 92 pitches overall and took 15 for called strikes. Before the seventh inning, Cincinnati only put one ball in play with an exit velocity higher than 85 mph, according to Statcast™.
Scooter Gennett homered with one out in the seventh before consecutive singles by Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler ended Musgrove's night. Reliever Richard Rodriguez walked Tucker Barnhart to load the bases, then plunked Phillip Ervin to bring home one run before escaping the inning. But the Pirates, led by the top of their lineup, had built up a big enough lead to withstand the Reds' rally.
Musgrove's mid-inning exit, accompanied by a standing ovation, was the only disappointment of the night for Cervelli. The night before, Cervelli said, he had served Musgrove "seven-, eight-inning arepas."
"Everybody is different," Cervelli said. "[Musgrove is] an intense guy. It's a competitor. When he doesn't have the best stuff, you've got to slow it down. That's what he did today."
Those learning experiences are valuable for Musgrove. This time last year, he was coming out of the bullpen to pitch in high-leverage situations for the eventual World Series champion Astros. Now, he's out of the postseason race, but still looking to prove himself near the end of his first full Major League season as a starter.
"It's really good for my development. I've still got a long ways to go for me to be among the elite pitchers in the game, but I feel like I'm [moving] in the right direction," he said. "A lot of the game is being able to trust your catcher and not trying to take too much control out there. He's in the best position of any guy on the field."
Cervelli never attempts to take credit after a successful outing. He asked a small group of reporters why they wanted to speak to him after the game and praised Musgrove for making the adjustments himself. But Cervelli does take pride in developing trust with each pitcher.
"That's my job, and that's what I've learned since I started 16 years ago," Cervelli said. "My first thing and the most important thing is the pitchers, the relationship with them."
Building those relationships takes time, understanding and patience -- and occasionally, arepas.
"The pitchers, they're my life. When they need me, I'll be there for them," Cervelli said. "Yesterday, he needed someone, and I offered myself, and I cooked for him.
"I don't know everything, but one thing that I know is all those guys' personalities. I know them very well. I think it's important."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A night of firsts: The top of Pittsburgh's lineup did the heavy lifting against left-hander Cody Reed and the Reds' bullpen. Starling Marte hit a two-run homer in the fourth. Adam Frazier was on base twice and scored a pair of runs. Gregory Polanco had three hits, including a two-run double in the third. Cervelli chipped in with two hits.
But it was Pablo Reyes, a September callup making his first Major League start with his family in attendance, who put the finishing touch on the Pirates' highest-scoring game in more than a week. After recording his first Major League hit in the fourth inning, Reyes ripped a double off the Clemente Wall in the eighth for his first RBI.
"Never gets old. It's absolutely great," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The first hit, I think it loosens everybody's belt a little bit to get one, and then what a pretty swing he put on the second ball that he rides off the wall out there."
Marte's two-run shot to right-center was his first home run since Aug. 7 and the first by a Pirates player other than Frazier or Polanco since Elias Diaz went deep in Minnesota on Aug. 15.
"When Marte hits a ball that direction, hopefully, he'll hold on to that a little bit, because those are good," Hurdle said. "Right-center field, staying through the ball, showing that kind of power."
HE SAID IT
"I cannot tell a pitcher that they don't have something. You have to sell the best car you have. You cannot sell the cheapest one. If they go to the mound with that mentality, they don't have it. The hitter's the enemy [as well as] themselves. You have to make them believe that, no matter what, they are good that night." -- Cervelli, on how he encourages his pitchers
Right-hander Jameson Taillon, the Pirates' Roberto Clemente Award nominee, will start for the Pirates on Clemente Day (Wednesday) at PNC Park. Taillon has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his past 17 starts, posting a 2.93 ERA during that stretch. He will face Reds right-hander Homer Bailey with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.