DUNEDIN, Fla. — Joe Musgrove’s final tune up of Spring Training was a success, as the Pirates’ fifth starter gave positive reviews after a five-inning, one-run appearance against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
“Considering the circumstances and how it’s gone for me, how it’s been scheduled out, yeah I think (I’m happy),” Musgrove said. “Ultimately, I’d have liked to have another outing or two under my belt already going into my six-inning one, but with where we’re at, I think I’m in a good spot.”
Musgrove will travel north with the team to Detroit for Opening Day before flying back to Florida to pitch in a minor-league game at Pirate City on Saturday. He’s scheduled to throw six innings and 100 pitches in that final tune-up.
When Musgrove gets back to Pittsburgh, he’ll be slotted into the rotation behind Opening Day starter Ivan Nova, pitching the first game of the Pirates’ series with the Cincinnati Reds on April 5.
“Opening day is really special,” Musgrove said. “It’s like that first day of school as a kid again. It’s extremely exciting. To do it in the big leagues is incredible. I got my first one last year and I hope to make the next 10 or so.”
Musgrove said that he thinks pitching deep into the postseason with stressful innings as the Houston Astros made a World Series run last fall affected his offseason plans and is what necessitated his slow start to 2018.
“I think that ultimately is what slowed me down this spring, was playing later in the year last year in high intensity innings and then not knowing how to gauge the rest and when to get it into gear,” Musgrove said.
One of the things that has been rushed in Musgrove’s spring has been the paring down of his five pitches into something a bit more manageable. If Sunday’s results are any indication, that’ll probably mean his curveball gets left aside.
“He threw the fastball to both side of the plate, in and down,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “He was also able to get the slider and cutter involved and also the changeup today, which is very key. The only thing that we were having a little problem with when he was warming up was the feel of the curveball. We still threw it — he still threw it, I didn’t throw it — one was for a get-me-over and one left he ballpark.
“The curveball isn’t one of this main pitches. He’ll flip that in there for an add and subtract. His other pitchers are his main four. We were able to get some good two-seamers in there today and get some changeups involved.
IN THE PEN
The Pirates have five players that have been announced as having made the team in the bullpen: Felipe Rivero, George Kontos, Michael Feliz in the back and Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow as long men.
In between, there are a half-dozen players still attempting to make the team, including Kyle Crick, Jordan Milbrath, Dovydas Neverauskas, Edgar Santana, Kevin Siegrist, and Josh Smoker. If the Pirates were hoping for someone in that group to step up this spring, grab a spot, and give them an easy decision, it hasn’t happened.
“It’s gonna be a tough decision for us,” Searage said “I don’t wanna say one way or the other. We’re going to have to have a conversation over the next day or so. … They want to make the club, so they’ve got to go up there, throw strikes and get outs.”
Three of the hopefuls pitched on Sunday against the Blue Jays, and none got rave reviews. Siegrist threw one inning, giving up one run on two hard-hit doubles. General manger Neal Huntington posited last week that Siegrist might need some more time, but he said he feels ready to go.
“The most important thing was just coming in and staying healthy,” he said. “I’m feeling good. I had to break some bad habits that I had last year and I feel like I did that. I feel like I’m on the right path.”
But Searage wasn’t as complimentary of the body of work of the veteran left-hander.
“From what I’m seeing, the command isn’t there,” Searage said. “The arm strength comes and goes. We’re just trying to get him out there as many times as possible and see if he can get his feet under him so this way he can compete and give us a better look.”
Fellow lefty Josh Smoker pitched a 1-2-3 inning, mostly against Toronto minor-leaguers, breaking a streak of three straight appearances with a run allowed. Those are the only three games he’s been scored on all spring, but again, it was more about what he hasn’t done in Searage’s eyes.
“I told him, ‘You’ve got the weapons to get people out, but you’re behind in the count all the time and then you’re treading water when you’re facing these guys. You go in there and throw strike one, boom,’” Searage said. “I showed him the numbers when hitters get to 0-1 vs. 1-0, it’s a vast difference. It’s still a work in progress with Smoker, but there’s something to work with there.”
Kyle Crick seems to have the best position of the team’s right-handers to make the club, but had a rough day on Sunday, pitching 0.2 innings and allowing two runs on three hits and two walks.
“Today was a rough day for him,” Searage said. “He couldn’t command the fastball, got behind and then had to come right at them. The slider helped out, but it didn’t really offset the fastball because of being behind in the count. He’s got potential.”
Outfielder Bryce Brentz was placed on outright waivers sometime on Saturday, meaning that he’ll have up until Monday to learn his fate. The outright waiver process can take up to 72 hours.
Brentz seemed to be in good spirits on Sunday, and said he’d like to stay with the Pirates if possible.
“Yeah, great group of guys, coaching staff,” he said. “Getting to know everyone has been great. Unfortunately it’s business, you know? Things like this happen. Part of the ups and downs of baseball. You get through it and work your way through it. That’s about all you can do.”
Brentz had a contact lens issue and a shoulder problem that hampered his spring with the Pirates, in addition to being traded mid-camp from Boston. He hit .250/.362/.350 in Grapefruit League play and had just one home run after hitting 31 in Triple-A in 2017.