Facing major-league hitters is never easy, especially a lineup as potent as the one the Braves roll out on a nightly basis.
Yet Joe Musgrove made it look almost effortless Wednesday night at PNC Park. He sliced through the batting order three times before tiring in the ninth inning as his bid for the first complete game of his four-year career fell three outs short.
There was a reason Musgrove looked like he was coasting. Let’s let the Pirates right-hander explain:
“My rhythm felt good,” he said. “My delivery was clean. It didn’t feel like I was using much effort and the ball was coming out of my hand clean. Any athlete will tell you, you hit that point in the game where you get in the zone, there's no real stopping you. You're not thinking about anything. You're seeing the glove and throwing to it."
Musgrove (4-6) pitched a career-high eight innings and retired 14 batters in a row at one point in pitching the Pirates to a 7-4 victory. It was just the fourth win for the Pirates (29-31) in their past 12 games.
Musgrove allowed three runs and five hits while striking out six and walking one. He needed just 99 pitches to get into the ninth.
I asked Musgrove about the importance of making it to the final inning:
However, Musgrove’s bid to pitch nine innings for the first time in 56 career starts ended when, with a 7-1 lead, he gave up back-to-back home runs to Ronald Acuna Jr. and Dansby Swanson to start the ninth.
"The two homers, it doesn't feel good to leave on that note, but I'm more happy with how I feel going into my next start," Musgrove said. "I feel like this is something I can build on and something that can turn my season around."
Nobody was complaining about Musgrove's finish. Everyone in the clubhouse was raving about him.
“He was really good,” Colin Moran said. “He was rolling. He was efficient and quick. It was the type of effort we really needed.”
The Pirates’ pitching staff is in shambles with Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams and Keone Kela on the injured list. Opponents had scored in double digits in six of the previous 12 games, overtaxing a bullpen, whose ERA rose to 5.27 after Felipe Vazquez allowed a run in relief of Musgrove.
“We needed a start like that, and he gave us one,” Clint Hurdle said. “It was a strong effort, a super strong effort.”
Musgrove got stronger as the game went on.
After a two-out double by Swanson in the third inning, Musgrove sat down 14 batters in a row, including striking out the top of the order – Acuna, Swanson and Freddie Freeman -- in the sixth.
Here is the strikeout of Freeman:
“It’s good to see the swing and miss from him,” Hurdle said. “When he does that, it means he’s pitching well.”
Musgrove’s performance was certainly a departure from his most recent outings. He had lost his previous two starts,
allowing 11 runs and 21 hits in 11 innings. Furthermore, he had been tagged for at least five earned runs in four of his previous six starts.
But it was a rare night when everything felt perfect for the big right-hander.
“I had good fastball command and I was able to attack hitters form the start of the game and I’m at my best when I’m on the attack,” he said. “When I’m commanding the fastball, all my other pitches are better, and it was one of those games where it was all working.”
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