PITTSBURGH — It was pretty obvious what kind of pitcher they were getting when the Pirates acquired Joe Musgrove as part of the Gerrit Cole trade this January.
Musgrove was 26, a hard-throwing right-hander that possessed a six-pitch mix, had success out of the rotation in 2016, and some troubles there in 2017 before an eventual move to the bullpen that coincided with the Houston Astros’ World Series run.
What kind of competitor the Pirates were getting, well that wasn’t as well known. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said with a smile that the team’s “scouts are pretty good,” hinting they knew about Musgrove as a total package.
But if Musgrove the competitor wasn’t as well-known of a concept, it’s come out to play in his first two appearances. He’s 2 for 3 at the plate with a perfectly laid-down sacrifice bunt. His hard, late slide into the ankles of Javier Baez on Wednesday night broke up a double play and made Musgrove into something of a folk hero for earning the Pirates some retribution for Anthony Rizzo’s similar slide into catcher Elias Diaz earlier in the series.
Oh yeah, and he has a 0.64 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP and three times as many strikeouts as walks.
Musgrove is having a ton of fun right now, having finally joined his teammates after nearly two months of being unable to compete with a strained right shoulder.
“It’s great to be back,” Musgrove said Wednesday. “On the mound, especially, that’s where I feel like I can offer the most and that’s where I’ll do my part contributing. It’s a blast getting to hit again and getting to run the bases a little bit. I’m starting to pick up little things here and there. I’m talking to J-Hay (Josh Harrison) every day about little keys to look for on the bases and things to be aware of at the plate. So, hopefully as the season goes on, I’ll be a be better, well-rounded player. But I’m having a blast right now.”
Of course, things weren’t always this fun for Musgrove. He was first injured during the very first week of Spring Training back at Pirate City, and ever since then, there’s been an un-scratched itch of being one of, if not the biggest, parts of the return for a franchise player in Cole and being unable to prove himself on the diamond.
Hurdle made it a point to engage Musgrove in that line of conversation, but he didn’t have a lot of advice to offer. After all, he’d never been traded from a World Series champion to a team that needed him in the lineup only to be hurt and unable to perform. So he approached their conversations with an open ear to try to make sure Musgrove was in a good place.
“I don’t have any experience like that to draw upon,” Hurdle said. “We had some really good conversations. I learned a lot. Because, to come over here, an important player gained, in the rotation, going to be in the starting five, oops no (he’s) not. He had to work his way back. As he’s gone out and played and gotten off to a good start, there’s probably a lot of different emotions or feelings.”
“Early on in spring, I was trying to battle and stick through some things, and that’s something that you never really know what’s going to happen,” Musgrove said in late April. “Sometimes, you throw through pain for two weeks and it goes away and you feel better. Sometimes, it never comes around. … The patience is just something you need to sit through, especially when your team is on a run like we are and having a lot of fun, you want to be a part of it, so patience is definitely big.”
Now that he’s back, Musgrove has hit the ground running, and he’s not eager to stop working hard any time soon.
“He came out here in PFP (pitcher’s fielding practice) the other day and made other guys stay after to work on his pickoff move,” Hurdle said. “He’s got some skills and how they’ll play out, time will tell, but he has a ballplayer feel to him, somewhat like (Steven) Brault when he’s in the game and he’s a very fierce competitor. We’re looking at him and we’re really glad to have him.”