PITTSBURGH — Joe Musgrove spent the first five years of his career pitching in Pittsburgh. He loves the city, loves the ballpark and gets particularly amped when he gets to face his former team in his former city.
But, seriously, has Musgrove ever looked more at home than he does right now, wearing “San Diego” emblazoned across his chest?
Musgrove, the childhood Padres fan turned hometown hero in San Diego, has taken his game to a different level since his arrival via trade in 2021. He was the Padres’ pitcher of the year last season, and has been even better through five starts this year.
On Sunday, Musgrove continued his red-hot start, pitching seven innings of one-run ball as the Padres waited out a pregame weather delay to beat the Pirates, 5-2.
“This is one I’ve had marked on the calendar for a little while,” Musgrove said. “Not in the sense that I have a grudge by any means. But you leave somewhere and you go back, you have that sense of showing these guys what they missed out on.”
It’s hard to envision Musgrove anywhere else right now. He’s been the Padres’ most reliable starting pitcher for the past two seasons and is a vocal presence in the clubhouse, clearly beloved by his teammates.
Of course, Musgrove is in his final season under contract, and both he and the Padres have expressed interest in an extension. But those talks were put on hold during the lockout and haven’t yet gained the momentum that Padres fans hoped to see.
In the meantime, all Musgrove can do is pitch. And he’s doing that quite well.
All five of his starts this season have been quality, and Sunday afternoon was one of his best. He struck out eight without allowing a walk, his ERA finishing the day at 1.97.
“On a day we need some innings, and you’ve got to wait around in a rain delay … if there was anyone that was the man for the job on a day like this today, it was him,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He went out and performed beautifully.”
It was the type of performance that Musgrove often tantalized with during his tenure in Pittsburgh. But he never did so with anywhere near this level of consistency.
“It’s experience, man,” Musgrove said. “I was talking to [Trent Grisham] about this on the bench. The only way you get better in this game is by being good enough to stay around long enough and experience enough to get better. … Really it’s just a little bit of trial and error early in the career, figuring things out, understanding who I am as a pitcher.”
Musgrove allowed his first run in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Roberto Pérez swatted a single high off the right-field wall. Moments later, Melvin had earned his first ejection as Padres skipper. From the top step of the dugout, Melvin voiced his displeasure that the 1-1 slider Musgrove threw to Pérez had been called a ball.
“I’m trying to fight for my guy, and next thing I know I’m out of the game,” said Melvin, who briefly emerged to argue with plate ump Jeremie Rehak before retreating to the clubhouse.
It caught Musgrove’s attention.
“I appreciate that, man,” Musgrove said. “I felt like I was working my [butt] off to get through that last inning. It’s nice to have him stand up. I thought it was a little quick trigger on their part, but it is what it is.”
After Melvin’s dismissal, the Pirates would load the bases with nobody out against Robert Suarez in the eighth, prompting acting manager Ryan Christenson to call on Tim Hill. Hill performed a dazzling escape act, allowing one run to score on a sacrifice fly before he induced an inning-ending double play that was confirmed after a replay review.
“Huge,” Melvin said of Hill’s effort. “Keep the ball on the ground and hopefully just one run comes out of it. That’s exactly what he did, and then to come back and add on a couple runs was big, as well.”
Grisham, who went 3-for-5 and appears to be breaking out of an early-season slump, was a key contributor on the offensive side of things on Sunday. Afterward, the center fielder was quick to sing Musgrove’s praises. (Really, all of Musgrove’s teammates are.)
“He’s just a rock,” Grisham said. “He solidifies us both on and off the field. He’s real easygoing off the field, a good dude to hang around as a young guy to just be around him and see how he approaches it.
“And then on the field, it’s nasty,” added Grisham. “Whether he has his stuff that day or not, he’s just going to go out there and compete. To watch that, to play behind that, it just fires you up.”