BRADENTON, Fla. – Joe Musgrove made his debut in the Pirates’ organization tonight, throwing three innings in a rehab start with the Bradenton Marauders. Musgrove was hit around a bit, giving up two runs on five hits in three innings, with no walks and two strikeouts.
Musgrove gave up a run in each of the first and third innings, but settled down in the second with a few strikeouts and a clean inning. He chalked it up to getting antsy in the first inning, since he was just getting back on the mound, and running into location issues with his fastball.
“The fastball command was better in the second inning,” Musgrove said of the pitch, which was consistently in the 93-95 MPH range tonight. “I was able to get ahead and establish the inside half, then I got some swings expanding the zone, which is ultimately what pitching is. You command early, and then you can expand, and you can force their hand and swings.”
As far as his health goes, Musgrove said that he’s feeling better in his return to the mound.
“I feel really good,” Musgrove said. “I feel like I’ve gotten in a really good routine the past couple of weeks. The downtime has given me a chance to get healthy and also build some arm strength.”
He has been down with a muscle belly strain in a muscle located in the back of his shoulder, which caused issues while he was throwing.
“It’s one of those muscles that really helps you lay back and accelerate through and slow down a little bit,” Musgrove said. “Without having that, it was tough for me to go out there and commit to the pitch and have conviction behind it when I was waiting for that grab and that pull to happen. I haven’t had any of that in the past couple of weeks, and I feel really good, so I hope we’re going to keep moving from there.”
Musgrove has had this issue in the past, but hasn’t figured out what is causing the problem yet. He thinks this instance was offseason related, due to the long season with the Astros winning the World Series, followed by an early start to Spring Training, leading to a shorter offseason.
“It’s something I’ve learned from, and next offseason, should we end up in the post season and go on to late October, I think I’ll know how to better handle it next time,” Musgrove said.
The feedback from his pitches has been good so far. He’s throwing his slider, but not his curveball yet. He said that the slider puts more torque on his arm, but that the pitch is feeling good. Musgrove will eventually throw all of his pitches, but is focusing on the fastball, changeup, and slider right now in shorter outings as he returns.
Musgrove will provide an interesting case study. As I’ve been writing, the Astros pitchers seem to have a strategy to throw their breaking pitches around 40% of the time, while the Pirates throw the fastball more often and throw the breaking stuff less. He said that he doesn’t anticipate the Pirates taking away his pitches and having him focus on less, but command of those pitches will be key.
“I think they’d agree with me that the more pitches you have, the more dangerous you can be,” Musgrove said. “You see guys like Darvish with six or seven pitches. Obviously you need to command the pitches and you need to execute them. It’s just going to be a game type thing, where everyday I go out. In the bullpen I always gauge my pitches and try to rank them and feel where I’m executing best that day. Some days we’ll have to bang a pitch, and some days I’ll throw all six. I like to throw all six just because there’s certain hitters where a curveball will play better over a slider, or a changeup will play better over my sinker.”
The key with either approach — fastball heavy or breaking pitch heavy — ultimately relies on having good fastball command, which is a big focus for Musgrove.
“Fastball command has always been a big thing for me, so I fit in really well with the mentality and the idea of pitching here,” Musgrove said. “I don’t think with Houston I went outside of what I did best, which was commanding my fastball early on and expanding from there. Trying to carry the same thing here, and the fact that they’re pushing the fastball is forcing me to throw it a little more. When you’re able to command the fastball, any pitcher will tell you their outing is going to be good.”
But can a stronger focus on the fastball still be possible while throwing your breaking pitches as often as Musgrove threw them in Houston? He seems to think it’s possible to still throw the breaking stuff more.
“You can,” Musgrove said. “Throughout an outing, I like to establish fastballs early. That’s kind of my game plan, to establish the inside part of the plate early. That makes my slider effective. If I don’t command the inside part, it kind of eliminates my slider. My game plan is always establishing that fastball early.”
We’ll see whether his pitch usage changes when he arrives in Pittsburgh, and how much of the Astros approach he will carry over. For now, he will take his rehab to Altoona next, throwing four and five inning outings in his next two starts. From there, he expects to go to Indianapolis for a six inning outing, after which he will return to Pittsburgh. If he goes every five days, he should be ready to return to Pittsburgh on May 21st at the earliest.