SAN DIEGO – Well, it was bound to happen at some point. Joe Musgrove has been so good all season, he was due for a rough showing on the mound eventually. It finally came on Friday night.
No, not the baseball game. Musgrove was dominant as usual in the Padres’ 9-0 victory over the Rockies at Petco Park. But he and former teammate Chad Kuhl played a side game of tic-tac-toe on the mound between innings. And although it ended in a draw, a couple of Musgrove’s moves were … questionable.
To be fair, Musgrove’s tic-tac-toe strategy is about the only thing worth critiquing about his performance on the mound this year. He has been perhaps the sport’s most dominant pitcher over the season’s first two-plus months. With six scoreless innings on Friday, Musgrove lowered his ERA to 1.50 – the best mark in baseball and the lowest for a Padre through the season’s first 11 starts since Jake Peavy sat at 1.47 during his Cy Young Award-winning 2007 campaign.
That might be where Musgrove – the San Diego kid who wears No. 44 to honor Peavy – is headed. In the more immediate future, he feels like something of a lock to reach the All-Star Game for the first time. Heck, he might have the honor of starting it for the National League at Dodger Stadium.
“I really feel like I’m playing a different game than I ever have before,” Musgrove said. “Mentally more than anything. The stuff hasn’t changed a whole lot. The usage, I guess is a little bit different. … But mentally, I just feel like I’m in a different league right now.”
His teammates certainly wouldn’t argue.
“It seems like every night he goes out there,” said Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth. “He’s one of the most elite competitors I’ve ever played with.”
Really, Friday night was the perfect testament to that. Musgrove needed 26 pitches to work through a laborious first inning. It took him some time to get a handle on his typically elite breaking pitches. But as he usually does, Musgrove settled in and found a way.
“I made big pitches when I needed to,” Musgrove said. “I had that stressful inning come early in the game. It allowed me to find it as the game went on. I feel like I was getting more and more efficient. By the end of the game, I was pretty tired … I was kind of emptying the tank.”
Musgrove still managed to complete six innings, getting Yonathan Daza to bounce to short before he left to an electric ovation at Petco Park. That would solidify his 11th consecutive quality start, a franchise record to start a season, surpassing the mark set by Dennis Rasmussen in 1991. Musgrove struck out eight while allowing four hits and two walks.
Meanwhile, the Padres’ resurgent offense continued to spark to life. Before Tuesday, the Padres hadn’t scored more than six runs in a game at Petco Park since Opening Day. They’ve now done so in three straight, plating 29 runs in those three games.
“You’ve just got to go at-bat by at-bat,” Mazara said. “If they don’t want to pitch you, there’s another guy that can do the damage behind you. We look at it that way. Just find a way to get on base and keep producing, because with the pitching staff we have, nobody’s going to want to face us.”
That’s never more true than when Musgrove is on the mound. He’s 7-0, and the team has won 10 of his 11 starts.
You want the full scope of Musgrove’s impact? Look at it through the eyes of his manager. The Padres are slated for a scheduled doubleheader on Saturday at Petco Park. That means all sorts of bullpen machinations, and it means huge pressure on the manager to cover innings without burning through his relievers.
Prior to the game, Bob Melvin was asked for the best way to navigate a game on the eve of a twin bill, knowing his bullpen will likely be taxed heavily on Saturday. It’s the type of situation that drives most managers nuts.
Melvin broke into a smile and said one word: “Joe.”
Comforting, indeed. These days, you can more or less chalk up a win and a quality start when Musgrove takes the mound. Really, only his tic-tac-toe game needs work.