ANAHEIM -- No disrespect to his fellow starting pitchers, right-hander Joe Musgrove said after his most recent start last weekend, but when the Padres are struggling, he wants to be the one who takes the ball and sets things right.
Well, the Padres were certainly struggling entering their two-game series against the Angels. And sure enough, when they needed him most, Musgrove was there to set things right on Friday night.
Musgrove twirled a complete-game shutout, blanking the Angels in a 5-0 victory at Angel Stadium as the Padres snapped a four-game skid with perhaps one of their most important victories of the season. Using a filthy blend of breaking pitches, he struck out nine and allowed just three hits and two walks.
“I felt like I was in complete control the whole game,” Musgrove said -- and it’d be tough to argue with his assessment.
No Padres pitcher had ever thrown a shutout in an American League ballpark before this season. Musgrove, who no-hit the Rangers in April, has now done it twice.
“He was great,” said second baseman Jurickson Profar, whose two-run triple in the second inning opened the scoring. “It reminded me of the no-hitter that he threw in Texas. He was exactly the same.”
Since the Padres acquired him from Pittsburgh in January, Musgrove has been everything they could have hoped for and then some. His ERA dipped to 2.85 after Friday’s gem.
On top of that, Musgrove is the only San Diego starting pitcher who hasn’t missed a turn through the rotation this season. (Well, to be fair, he did miss one -- when he came out of the bullpen instead and pitched five hitless innings in Houston to save the Padres’ beleaguered relief corps.)
“Top-of-the-line stuff, top-of-the-line competitor, and he’s thrown as well as anybody on the staff,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “All I know is this: He takes the ball, and you feel like you’re going to win that day.”
Tingler said he briefly considered lifting Musgrove. But that was before he had a chat with the hulking right-hander after the bottom of the eighth inning.
“He had a glare in his eye, and he wasn’t coming out,” said the Padres skipper.
Musgrove was given a rare early cushion to work with, too -- San Diego hitters had gone hitless while he was on the mound in each of his previous two starts. The Padres scored three runs in the second inning on five consecutive hits -- more hits than they mustered in any of their three games against the Dodgers this week. They plated two more in the fifth -- and that was plenty of support for a downright dominant Musgrove.
“I've seen him good, but I've never seen those kinds of numbers throughout a game,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon. “Velocity-wise, his slider, his curveball, his sinker, he had everything going today.”
The Padres still sit two games behind Cincinnati in the National League Wild Card race, following the Reds’ victory in Miami on Friday night. But with five weeks remaining until the end of the regular season, there's certainly time for a turnaround, even if the Padres will have to navigate a tricky schedule.
This is the time to make up ground. Including Friday, the Padres play eight of 11 games against teams below .500. Then it gets a whole lot tougher, as they finish with 22 games against teams with winning records, 19 of those against teams currently occupying a place in the playoffs.
Of course, it hasn't always been that simple for the Padres, who recently dropped six of seven on a road trip through Arizona and Colorado. But on Friday night, they made the Angels look like what they are -- a team toiling far from playoff contention.
Musgrove’s excellent start was merely the latest in a surge of positive news surrounding the rotation. After struggling through the first four months, Blake Snell has been dominant in August. Meanwhile, Yu Darvish returned from the injured list to pitch six innings on Thursday, and Chris Paddack could return next week in Arizona.
With Musgrove on top of those three, the Padres think they just might have the horses capable of making a Wild Card comeback happen, no matter what their schedule looks like.
“I really like where we’re at,” Musgrove said of the rotation. “By no means are we out of this thing. We’ve got a lot of ball left to play, and we’re right within reach of that spot. Hopefully, this is a sign of us getting hot at the right time.”