Joe Musgrove nearly collected his first hit of the year in the Pirates' 4-1win over the Giants. The unusual part? He wasn't the Pirates' pitcher.
Any time a pitcher hits ... no ... anytime a pitcher pinch hits, the game is normally deep enough into extra innings that it's required. Clint Hurdle hadn't used all of his bench when he called upon Musgrove -- he hadn't used any of his bench.
But, the bench was short. Jason Martin and Colin Moran each held bats and stretched ... multiple times, but weren't called upon to pinch hit. Instead, with a four-run lead in the seventh, Hurdle turned to Musgrove.
[caption id="attachment_810554" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Jason Martin prepares to bat ahead of the decision to use Joe Musgrove. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Just prior to that at-bat, I saw Musgrove pacing the dugout with batting gloves on and a bat in his hands (the first image that kicks off the gallery up top is from this sequence). He took the gloves off, but stood talking to Martin and worked on his batting stance. At the time, I thought it could be pitcher's envy from watching Madison Bumgarner's excellent approach with a bat, until he went up the steps and prepped to bat in the on-deck circle.
So ... why?
Well, Adam Frazier wasn't on the bench at all during the game. He was resting a light back injury. Jacob Stallings was, but he never moved toward a bat. He'd be the last choice anyway in case Francisco Cervelli needed to come out of the game. So, Martin and Moran were the only real options.
With that four-run lead, Hurdle chose to save his two position guys and Musgrove got the call, just in case the others were needed in an emergency. Musgrove stepped up and crushed a ball to right center where Kevin Pillar barely got his glove on it. The entire time, Kyle Crick -- who Musgrove hit for -- was climbing from the dugout screaming, "Oh! Joe!"
Despite ultimately lining out, Musgrove had this to say to our Hunter Homistek following the game: “Oh yeah. I crushed that thing. Hammered it.”
Musgrove didn't get his first hit of the season, but the decision to use him did prove crucial in the game.
In the eighth inning, Starling Marte came flying in toward shortstop as Erik Gonzalez went full speed toward center. It looked as though Marte called him off. And, if not, the pop clearly made its way to Marte's territory, meaning Gonzalez should have backed off.
Neither player bailed on their run and collided with a force you're more accustomed to in a hockey or football game. Gonzalez immediately dropped his glove and stripped his hat before walking off the field discussing a left hand/arm injury. Marte required a cart where he took a position sitting in the passenger seat. It appeared his injury was, to borrow from the end of the hockey season, lower body in nature.
The GIF above is made of 36 frames of action I took of the collision, and is a pretty good look at how hard they hit from my field-level perspective. You can read more about those injuries and the Pirates' injury situation in general in Hunter's report from the Pirates' win.
What I ultimately found interesting -- and what my mind immediately recalled -- was that the decision to use Musgrove as a pinch-hitter, and therefore a safety net, allowed Hurdle the option to use Moran and Martin if or when they were needed.
Jung Ho Kang slid to short, Moran jumped in at third and Martin headed into the outfield. It certainly wasn't an ideal way to have to use either player, but playing it safe with a short bench and a four-run lead allowed Hurdle to make the decision to hold them for the very scenario for which they were needed -- no matter how unpredictable.