MLB

Joe Musgrove, Bob Melvin, and Trust … Sunday Was an Example of The Padres New Thinking

A year ago the Padres were bullpenning but in 2022 their starters are thriving

Joe Musgrove wanted to wear 44 with the Padres because he grew up admiring Jake Peavy. The two right-handers share more than uniform digits. Their attitudes are exactly the same, too.

While Peavy was more demonstrative on the mound Musgrove’s compete factor is every bit as off the charts as Jake’s is and he put it on full display Sunday afternoon at Petco Park.

Musgrove has been working on his fastball, altering its grip and release to try and get more late life on the pitch and have it stay higher in the strike zone instead of tailing horizontally, which is the way his heater naturally moves. In his last bullpen session the effort really started to pay off. But, even a small tweak like that is serious work, especially when the body is still adjusting to a new delivery.

“That little fix I was trying to incorporate in the game I just felt it a lot more in the lat and triceps and by the 4th, 5th inning I felt like I was running out of gas and I was just kind of willing myself through the last couple of innings,” says Musgrove.

A lesser pitcher would have asked to come out of the game. A lesser manager would have taken him out of the game. Instead of an early exit Musgrove rolled on, with the endorsement of skipper Bob Melvin.

“The will and the fire in me wanted to finish that off. I felt good going out for the 7th,” says Musgrove.

He gave up one hit, then got a popup for out number two. Due up was Jazz Chisolm, who ratcheted up Musgrove’s intensity another notch because he wanted a little revenge.

Joe had struck out the Marlins 2nd baseman twice with a curve ball, but in the 6th inning Musgrove left one up and Chisolm hit it out of the park for a solo home run. Keep in mind, Musgrove’s curve ball is elite. In 2021 opponents hit just .126 against it. Advanced metrics say only 12 pitchers in the game had a more devastating weapon in their arsenals.

But, with the fatigue setting in it wasn’t working like it usually does. So, Musgrove did what most pitchers would never dream of doing. He left his most dangerous tool in the shed.

“I kid of abandoned that (pitch) after the 4th or 5th inning. I felt like it didn’t have that sharp acceleration down and it was kind of just hanging up there. The Chisolm home run was kind of a solidifying thing for me that I was done with that pitch.”

Which brings us back to the 7th inning. Melvin went out for a mound meeting with his workhorse.

“Joe was fantastic, and he was on fumes there at the end,” says Melvin. “I wanted to know what he thought. He wanted to get that last out.”

Melvin is a former catcher who’s managed 2,647 big league games. He knows how to read a pitcher.

“Bob came out and asked me how bad I wanted it,” says Musgrove. “I think the right move is probably to say that I was done but I really wanted to finish that off, especially against Chisolm after he took me deep the at-bat before. So, I’m very grateful he gave me the opportunity to go finish it up.”

Melvin was rewarded with a flyout to centerfield, keeping the Padres in the game to set up Jorge Alfaro’s 9th inning heroics. There are several factors to why the manager left his guy in there.

One is the Friars are currently using a 6-man rotation, meaning everyone gets an extra day off between starts. It’s something most starters have said they aren’t fond of because they’ve been on a 5-man schedule for almost their entire professional careers and pro athletes are creatures of habit.

But, as a compromise for the extra time off, Melvin is letting his guys work deeper into games. Musgrove’s last pitch was his 108th of the afternoon, an awful lot by today’s standards. It’s your proverbial small sample size but the arrangement so far seems to be working well.

“Going on a 6-man rotation Bob is giving us the opportunity to go out there and run it up over 100 pitches and really trusting the staff to go out there and get the job done and go deep into games,” says Musgrove.

That’s the other part of why Melvin let Musgrove get that last out on Sunday. He trusts his players. This is arguably the most talented pitching staff Melvin has had in 17 years as a skipper. He’s going to let his guys show what they can do as much as possible, which is a far cry from the strategy from a year ago.

In 2021 the Padres starters threw the fewest innings in the National League, which led to multiple bullpen days and a relief corps that was drastically overworked in a late-season collapse. Part of that was due to injury and ineffectiveness but another part was managerial strategy.

Melvin isn't as concerned with how many times a pitcher turns the lineup over as much as he is how well a guy is throwing and his staff is embracing the new philosophy with open arms.

“We get through, six, seven innings with two or three (runs) or less, we feel like we have a really good chance to win every day,” says Musgrove.

So far, he’s right. A “quality start” is when a pitcher goes at least 6.0 innings and allowed three or fewer runs. The Padres lead the league in quality starts. It’s no coincidence they’re 19-10, despite having an offense and bullpen that’ haven’t fully hit their stride yet.

This could be a very special season in San Diego.

LISTEN: With NBC 7 San Diego's Darnay Tripp and Derek Togerson behind the mic, On Friar will cover all things San Diego Padres. Interviews, analysis, behind the scenes...the ups, downs, and everything in between. Tap here to find On Friar wherever you listen to podcasts. 

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