Lots to like as Musgrove debuts for Padres

March 6th, 2021

Between the feel-good nature of being traded to his hometown team and the flurry of splashier moves the Padres made during the offseason, here’s a little nugget that may have gotten lost in the shuffle: Musgrove, quite frankly, is a very good pitcher.

Musgrove, who threw two perfect innings in his spring debut Friday in the Padres’ 9-3 win in eight innings over the Giants, slots in as the Padres’ projected fourth starter. And perhaps he will open the season to a more muted fanfare than some of his more celebrated rotation mates. But the big right-hander could prove to be an impactful stabilizer on this star-studded staff, especially if he starts this season like he ended the last one -- on a blazing tear.

On Friday vs. the Giants, Musgrove seemed up to the task. Over two quick, uneventful innings, he threw 18 pitches, faced six batters and looked sharp as he tested an array of his four main pitches.

“I was a little bit amped up out there,” Musgrove said. “I was real excited to be back in a game. It's been awhile, especially in the uniform and with a lot of adrenaline. I wasn't as sharp as I could be but it was effective.”

Friday’s outing was his first for the Padres in any official capacity. The best -- actually pitching at Petco Park -- is yet to come. But pitching for the Padres is special no matter where he is, considering he’s a native San Diegan, born and bred in El Cajon, with a baseball-loving family that helped him shape his love for the game with multiple trips to Qualcomm Stadium and, later, Petco Park.

So yes, there’s lots to like about Musgrove, the local kid. But there’s a ton more to like about Musgrove, the pitcher. That will be especially true if he picks up where he left off last September, when he dominated opponents in what turned out to be his final run with the Pirates.

In five starts that month, following a month-long stint on the injured list with an arm issue, he struck out 38 batters over 25 innings and posted a 0.92 WHIP, while opponents batted .198 against him.

Musgrove’s final two starts against the Cardinals and Indians were simply dominant. He struck out 21 batters over a combined 13 scoreless innings.

That’s the version of Musgrove the Padres envision slotting in behind Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Dinelson Lamet as San Diego aims to keep pace with the Dodgers and make the National League West race a true showdown.

“He can pitch to his strengths, and he's also got the command, the touch, the feel, the athletic ability to pitch to the weaknesses of hitters, so he can attack guys in all different ways,” manager Jayce Tingler said of Musgrove before Friday’s game. “I love the way he controls the running game, how he defends his position, and just the overall package, and certainly the mentality that he has.”

Musgrove relies on no fewer than six pitches, but it’s the curveball that he’s worked into his repertoire more than others in recent times. He threw it more in ’20 than he had in his prior four seasons, even though he now describes it as one of his worst pitches -- “maybe fifth or sixth” -- entering last season. Seeking more success against left-handers, Musgrove set out to redesign the pitch so that it felt more comfortable in his hand, and he worked on it until it took the shape and action that gave it more of a true 12-to-6 motion.

He started the process when he was with the Astros several years ago and carried the effort over when he joined the Pirates.

“And it's been a good weapon for me,” Musgrove said. “I didn't intend to throw it as much as I did last year and it was so good for me, I just kept using it.”

Musgrove will make several more Spring Training starts before the team heads back to San Diego to open the regular season with the D-backs, and he can expect to answer more questions about his El Cajon upbringing, his dad’s influence on his Padres fandom and the pride he takes wearing No. 44 as a nod to Jake Peavy, the former Padres ace whom Musgrove grew up emulating.

But if all goes well, and with a little early success, the attention is likely to shift to Musgrove’s ability to win games, with slightly less emphasis on his formative years. That would be a natural progression for the hometown kid.

“Because of some of the other [offseason] moves, it didn't get as much notice,” Tingler said of the trade for Musgrove. “But we thought, we're getting an unbelievable athlete. It's been super impressive to watch his development, his growth, his path.

“Knowing the person, the competitor, the athlete, we think he’s got a chance to really impact us.”