Musgrove rebounds with 7 strong vs. Padres
Righty stymies San Diego lineup before bullpen shuts door for series-opening win
PITTSBURGH -- Last week was an exercise in frustration for Joe Musgrove. His scheduled start on June 10 was cut short after 18 pitches when he was ejected after a pitch grazed Josh Donaldson’s jersey. He took the mound again two days later in Atlanta, didn’t record an out in the fifth inning and lost.
Before facing one of the Majors’ hottest lineups on Friday night, Musgrove had seven days to simmer. He needed the time down, he said, because he was “hurting” after that unusual series. He dealt with a neck issue between starts, and his legs felt heavy when he took the mound at PNC Park. Nonetheless, Musgrove delivered one of his best starts of the season, shutting down the Padres for seven innings in the Pirates’ 2-1 win.
“He took advantage of the time, took advantage of the side work, took advantage of some extra gas in his tank and just stayed on attack all night long,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Bucs have won four of their past six games. They’re still six games below .500, but they have a better chance to climb out of that hole with Trevor Williams back in the rotation and Musgrove pitching the way he did Friday night. Williams thought Pittsburgh’s comeback victory on Wednesday was a turning point after a stretch with 20 losses in 28 games, and Musgrove said the same about Friday’s win.
“We’ve been talking about how close we are to breaking out of this thing,” Musgrove said. “It’s easy to roll over and give up when things are going wrong, but you keep fighting. Who knows, maybe this is the game that turns things around for us.”
It might have been an important night for Musgrove, too. The right-hander entered the game with a 7.59 ERA in his past nine outings following an excellent April, and he was matched up with a Padres lineup that scored 65 runs in their past nine games.
Musgrove started strong, striking out the side on 13 pitches in the first inning. He didn’t allow more than one hit in an inning all night, struck out eight without a walk and surrendered only a solo homer to Manny Machado in the fourth. By executing his game plan, Musgrove found he was able to use the Padres’ big, aggressive swings against them.
“I told myself, if I get in situations where I need outs, I’m going to go to my best pitch,” Musgrove said, referring to the slider he threw 39 times. “In the past, I’ve tried to do a little bit too much pitching and not just going at guys with my best weapons. Tonight, I figured if I could get them in swing mode early, I’d go to the slider early and try to put them away.”
That plan allowed Musgrove to finish as impressively as he started. He worked a perfect sixth against the heart of San Diego’s lineup. With one out, he followed a down-and-away slider (a called strike) with a perfectly located, up-and-in fastball that Machado took for strike three. Musgrove used a similar strategy against Hunter Renfroe, who harmlessly popped out on an 0-2 slider down and away.
“I’ve had success against both of them on that. I’m ultimately going there to try to protect the slider that I want to get them out with,” Musgrove said. “You’ve got to show them something up in there just to make them respect it.”
Musgrove had thrown 93 pitches at that point. In the dugout, Hurdle asked his pitcher if he could go back out for another inning, then double-checked to make sure.
“I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Musgrove said. “I felt like that extra couple days of rest allowed me to stay fresh for the seventh.”
After striking out Francisco Mejia with his 105th and final pitch of the night, Musgrove walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the “Stranger Things” Night crowd of 33,437. All he needed was another run, and the Pirates delivered in appropriately strange fashion.
Jung Ho Kang, who lined into two hard-hit outs earlier in the night, mishit a grounder down the third-base line off lefty Eric Lauer and wound up at second base after two errors by Machado. He was replaced at second by a pinch-runner: Steven Brault, the starting pitcher for Sunday’s series finale.
Brault then came around to score the go-ahead run on a single up the middle by José Osuna, who was making only his third start of the season.
“When we score, that’s good. It doesn’t matter if it’s [Brault] or whatever. We’re trying to win,” Osuna said, smiling. “But that’s really funny, pinch-running by a pitcher.”
Setup man Kyle Crick loaded the bases in the eighth, but he and closer Felipe Vázquez protected the Pirates’ one-run lead. It was the kind of game the Pirates imagined they’d see a lot, the kind they haven’t seen enough: a quality start, shutdown relief work and just enough offense to win.
“It was a blast, man,” Musgrove said. “The energy was incredible tonight. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the stadium like that, and quite frankly, it’s been a while since we’ve had a starter go seven, have Crick go the eighth and Flip go the ninth. All around, it was an incredible game.”