'Off the list': Musgrove achieves milestone with first ASG

July 18th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Joe Musgrove, at long last, is an All-Star. It's been a goal of his, really, since he was 10 years old. Last summer, Musgrove felt he had a decent shot, but with two poor starts, that opportunity unraveled.

This year, the right-hander made darn sure he’d be headed to the Midsummer Classic in Los Angeles. Musgrove is turning in one of the best Padres pitching seasons in recent memory, perhaps the best since his childhood idol Jake Peavy won the National League Cy Young Award in 2007. In the first half, Musgrove posted a 2.42 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP, and he's striking out 4.43 batters for every walk.

It's quite the first half. But Musgrove -- with the Padres locked squarely in the NL playoff race -- doesn't want his 2022 season to be defined by its first half.

"It's another thing to mark off the list," Musgrove said of his trip to the All-Star Game. "But ultimately the goal is to get into the postseason and to finish the whole thing on top."

Expect for Musgrove to get the ball for an inning on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium (5 p.m. PT on FOX). He might hear a few boos from the L.A. fans. He'll definitely showcase an elite repertoire of spin pitches.

But for Musgrove -- and fellow All-Stars Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth -- the Midsummer Classic is something of a breather. It's a respite from a long haul of a season that simply cannot end the way the last one did.

"Nice to have a couple days off. Hopefully, get some of our guys back healthy when we're back from the break, and then we hit the ground running," Musgrove said.

It's a massive second half for the Padres, who have invested heavy resources in a team that has yet to produce postseason success, save for a Wild Card Series victory in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Eligible to become a free agent after the season, it's also a massive second half for Musgrove. He and the Padres have had discussions on a potential extension, and those talks certainly haven't soured. But at this point, they haven’t progressed toward any resolution.

Musgrove has not commented on those negotiations, preferring instead to keep his focus on the season at hand. It's a season in which he's taken his game to a completely different level. He says the difference is almost entirely mental.

Indeed, there’s an air of assurance to Musgrove when he takes the mound, and his teammates sense it.

"He just never lets a hit or a walk or an error or anything, really, lead to runs," said catcher Austin Nola. "It happens, he just ends it in his mind and gets right back on to what he was doing."

Nola is now in his second season working with Musgrove. Straightaway, he says, it was easy to see Musgrove's stuff was elite. He boasts an array of breaking pitches with top-tier spin.

But that was true of Musgrove in Pittsburgh, too. The difference now, Nola says, is twofold. First is the mentality shift Musgrove has undergone. He's unflappable. Second? Musgrove's fastball.

"His fastball, he's able to use that for strikes to all areas, different parts of the zone," Nola said. "Last year, the spin was so nasty. It still is. But it's very hard to hit when he's locating the fastball, because now you've got to respect it."

Musgrove is clearly eager for his first All-Star Game, and the fact that it’s only a couple hours to the north means the El Cajon native will get to share it with family and friends. He’s spent the past week asking questions of teammates like Machado and Yu Darvish – who boast multiple All-Star Game appearances – as to what he can expect.

“He’s a great guy to go alongside with, pick his brain along the way and just kind of follow his lead,” Musgrove said of Machado. “He’s been to quite a few of these things.”

Machado’s been to five of them, to be exact. Musgrove is currently basking in his first. But the pomp and circumstance isn’t clouding Musgrove’s view of the big picture.

“It’s not letting the focus change on what the ultimate goal is,” Musgrove said.

The ultimate goal -- that would be a November parade, the likes of which Musgrove’s hometown has never seen.