Musgrove towering over mound…with pitches, at least

Musgrove towering over mound...with pitches, at least
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SAN DIEGO – Well, it had to happen at some point. Joe Musgrove has been so good all season that he finally had to put a strain on the mound. He finally arrived on Friday evening.

No, not the baseball game. Musgrove was dominant as usual in the Padres’ 9-0 win over the Rockies at Petco Park. But he and his former teammate Chad Kuhl played a parallel game of tic-tac-toe on the mound between the sleeves. And while it ended in a draw, a few Musgrove moves were… questionable.

To be fair, Musgrove’s tic-tac-toe strategy is about the only thing worth criticizing about his performance on the mound this year. He was perhaps the sport’s most dominant pitcher in the first two months of the season. With six scoreless innings on Friday, Musgrove lowered his ERA to 1.50 – the highest rating in baseball and the lowest for a Padre in the first 11 starts of the season since Jacques Peavy sat at 1.47 during his Cy Young Award-winning 2007 campaign.

Maybe that’s where Musgrove — the kid from San Diego who wears No. 44 to honor Peavy — is heading. In the more immediate future, it feels like some sort of lock on reaching the All-Star Game for the first time. Heck, he might have the honor of pitching it for the National League at Dodger Stadium.

“I really feel like I’m playing a different game than I’ve ever played before,” Musgrove said. “Mentally more than anything. Things haven’t changed much. The usage, I suppose, is a 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,” the Padres second baseman said Jake Cronenworth. “He’s one of the most elite competitors I’ve ever played with.”

Truly, Friday night was the perfect testament to that. Musgrove needed 26 pitches to get through a laborious first inning. It took him a while to master his typically elite breaking throws. But as he usually does, Musgrove settled down and found a way.

“I made big throws when I needed to,” Musgrove said. “I had this stressful round at the start of the game. This allowed me to find it as the game progressed. I feel like I’m more and more efficient. At the end of the match, I was rather tired… I was emptying the tank.

Musgrove still managed to complete six innings, bouncing Yonathan Daza before heading off to an electric ovation at Petco Park. It would solidify his 11th consecutive quality start, a franchise record to start a season, surpassing the mark set by Denis Rasmussen in 1991. Musgrove struck out eight while allowing four hits and two walks.

Meanwhile, the upsurge in the Padres offense continued to come to life. Prior to Tuesday, the Padres hadn’t scored more than six points in a game at Petco Park since Opening Day. They’ve now done it in three straight games, scoring 29 points in those three games.

“You just have to go bat by bat,” Mazara said. “If they don’t want to throw you, there’s another guy who can do the damage behind you. We see it that way. We just have to find a way to be on base and keep producing, because with the pitching team we have, no one will want to play against us.

This is never truer than when Musgrove is on the mound. He is 7-0 and the team has won 10 of 11 starts.

Want the full extent of Musgrove’s impact? Look at him through the eyes of his manager. The Padres are scheduled for a doubleheader scheduled for Saturday at Petco Park. That means all sorts of bullpen machinations, and that means tremendous pressure on the manager to cover innings without burning his relievers.

Before the game, Bob Melvin was asked how best to navigate a game on the eve of a twin bill, knowing his bullpen would likely be heavily taxed on Saturday. This is the kind of situation that drives most managers crazy.

Melvin smiled and said one word: “Joe”.

Comforting, indeed. These days, you can more or less score a quality win and start when Musgrove takes the mound. Really, only his tic-tac-toe game needs work.

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