Kovacevic: The real fragility’s exposed anew


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Yadier Molina scores one of the Cardinals' four runs in the second inning Thursday night in St. Louis. - AP

ST. LOUIS -- For as much fun as the 2019 Pirates could have been -- and in the most optimistic outlook, still could be -- there was always this element of fragility in the event of emergency.

What if this would go wrong?

What if that would go wrong?

To whom could they possibly turn for help, having slashed payroll by nearly $30 million and having Major League Baseball's worst drafting/development over the past decade?

Well, the full story's yet to be written and, to the credit of all those taking the field, the team that leads the majors in populating the injured list -- a mindblowing 18 players in all, two more than the Yankees and six more than anyone else, per the Elias Sports Bureau -- is still somehow floating along at .500, now 17-17 after this 17-4 crushing by the Cardinals on this Thursday night at Busch Stadium.

To repeat from earlier this week back home, there's some serious moxie within that.

But let's not pretend there isn't more to the process. Because when two of those injuries struck the foundational starting rotation, Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer recently going down in rapid succession, the margin for further error dwindled to somewhere between zero and, uh, zero.

And don't think Joe Musgrove didn't realize that.

"It's not what you want," he'd say after a second consecutive sickly start, this time lasting three-plus innings for eight runs, six hits and five walks. "It's not what anyone would've wanted."

It's frightening. And yeah, it's fragile:

Musgrove's previous start, back home against the Athletics, saw him last 2 2/3 innings for seven runs, six hits and two walks. And with the way so many others have been reaching for elbows and shoulders of late following lousy outings, it feels almost fair to ask if this guy might not be hurting, too. He'd been brilliant with a 1.59 ERA through five starts, then suddenly has been erratic and, maybe most alarming, has shown a slight dip in release-point velocity.

"I don't have anything," Clint Hurdle replied when I asked if Musgrove is OK. "I can't answer that."

What about velocity or other signs?

"No. To me, it was a really clean first inning," Hurdle came back. "Maybe it was down a little in the fourth, but if you've thrown 70-plus pitches by the fourth, that can happen. It wasn't his night."

So what was the problem?

"Command. Overall command. All the indicators you look to, he's underneath all of them. First-pitch strikes were 50 percent. He had eight three-ball counts. Only four hitters retired on three pitches or less. Back-to-back 0-2 doubles. The overall pitch execution. Breaking balls were either short or left over the middle. The fastball wasn't getting the action or hitting the spots. ... Some of them were balls out of the hand. Uncharacteristic of him."

That seemed to be Musgrove's take, too. He'd been harsh on himself post-Oakland, but not as much this time:

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