BRADENTON, Fla. – With just one actual Grapefruit League game to his credit entering Tuesday, it could be argued Joe Musgrove is facing an uphill battle to be ready for his first start of the season.
A couple of things get in the way of that quick-trigger perception.
For one, because of the two off days in the first week of the schedule, the Pirates don’t need to use their fifth starter until Sunday, April 8. That’s 10 days after the season begins in Detroit, so there’s some extra built-in time for Musgrove to prepare.
Also, in terms of actual workload, Musgrove pitched two innings (31 pitches) in a minor-league game March 9 in addition to his 2 2/3 innings in Tampa against the Yankees on March 15. That would make Tuesday’s scheduled start against the Red Sox in Fort Myers his third, while everyone else in the projected rotation has started at least four times.
Not ideal, but not an impossible obstacle to overcome in time to be ready for on-schedule debut.
“I’m building up a little slower than I liked to,” Musgrove said, “but I’m only one start behind everybody else.”
Musgrove, 25, pitched all the way until Halloween last year — literally — as it took the Astros seven games to win the World Series. Thus, the Pirates didn’t want to push him too hard at the start, a concern that became moot when Musgrove reported shoulder discomfort during full-squad workouts last month.
The Pirates put Musgrove on a three-day rest regimen, a setback the pitcher described as a “breather” to me Monday morning in the Bill McKechnie Clubhouse.
“They wanted to take it slow, and I had a little hiccup with my arm,” Musgrove said, shrugging.
Although he’s moved past the shoulder pain, Musgrove has to get re-acclimated to the rhythms of starting after spending the second half of last season in the Houston bullpen, plus the entire postseason run. Thus, he said much of his focus this spring has been on routine-related matters, in addition to listening to input from Ray Searage, Euclides Rojas, and even Clint Hurdle.
Musgrove said Searage’s insistence of “not forcing his ways on you” have put him at ease as he makes this transition.
“Trying to stick to the routine that works for me,” Musgrove said, “and also trying to adapt to the new things they have to offer and gaining some knowledge from them.”
Would it have been nice to get an extra start in before the end of spring? Yes, but the most important thing for a man in Musgrove’s position is health, which he appears to have regained.
• Clint Hurdle said earlier in camp Nick Kingham was at least nominally competing to make the team. If that’s the case, Kingham didn’t help himself in his fourth start of spring and fifth overall appearance.
Twins sluggers Miguel Sanó and Brian Dozier both hit home runs off Kingham, who ended up allowing six runs on eight hits across 3 2/3 innings, raising his spring ERA to 8.76.
The 26-year-old Kingham had a 4.13 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) for Triple-A Indianapolis last season. He has one option year remaining, which the Pirates argued for and received due to Kingham’s Tommy John surgery in 2015.
• By the way, the Pirates won the game, 11-8, with three home runs providing much of the production. Josh Bell slammed a two-run right-handed dinger in the first, his third of spring, with José Osuna and Chris Bostick adding solo shots later. Osuna has four homers to tie Sean Rodríguez for the team lead this spring.
“I have to do everything to be ready,” Osuna said.
Osuna’s batting line of .324/.366/.676, with eight strikeouts and two walks in 39 plate appearances, reminds of last year’s impressive exhibition results.
• Eric Wood is more of a long shot than Osuna to make the squad, but he went 2 for 4 Monday to raise his line to .357/.419/.607 in 30 plate trips. Wood can be differentiated from Osuna in that he’s a natural third baseman who also had 19 combined starts at corner outfield spots last year in Triple-A.
The 25-year-old Wood hit .238/.311/.438 in 120 games for Indy last season, his first at that level.
• There were no cuts Monday, so several major-league campers threw in minor-league games over at the Pirate City training complex. Iván Nova fired 100 pitches, while Felipe Rivero, George Kontos, Dovydas Neverauskas and Bo Schultz also got in their prescribed relief work.