Former Astros pitcher Joe Musgrove intent on earning spot in Pirates' rotation
BRADENTON, Fla. — Steven Brault was playing catch with Trevor Williams at Pirate City when he saw a teammate both old and new.
Joe Musgrove was one of the fresh faces who worked out Monday morning when Pirates pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, but a familiar one to Brault. They played together at powerhouse program Grossmont High School in El Cajon, Calif., winning three state championships.
"I was our ace, of course, you know," Musgrove said, with a laugh, as his locker is next to Brault's in the clubhouse. "But me and him were the two power arms, on the right and left side."
Musgrove, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound right-hander acquired from the Houston Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade, opened last season as the Astros' No. 4 starter and is projected to pitch in the middle of the Pirates' rotation this season.
"That's what I've done my whole life," said Musgrove, 25, who made 15 starts and 23 relief appearances last season. "I've always been a starter."
Strangely, Musgrove making the starting rotation could come at the expense of Brault, a left-hander who was named the organization's minor-league pitcher of the year last season. The Pirates went 4-0 in the lefty's four MLB starts.
Brault isn't worrying about whether he's pitching out of the rotation or the bullpen, as long as he's doing it in the majors.
"It's strange, definitely," Brault said. "Once we got here, it was kind of one of those things (that) it would be cool if we played on the same team. But we didn't ever think it was going to happen.
"Now that it is, it's awesome."
As one of the centerpieces of the Cole deal — along with third baseman Colin Moran and reliever Michael Feliz — Musgrove will compete with Chad Kuhl, Williams, Brault and Tyler Glasnow for a spot in the rotation.
Whether he ends up being the Pirates' No. 3 starter behind Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova or lower doesn't matter much to Musgrove.
"Any day I pitch, I'm the ace," Musgrove said. "It doesn't matter if I'm the one guy or the five guy. If I get the ball, it's my day."
Musgrove struggled as a starter but shined out of the bullpen with the Astros. He went 4-8 with a 6.12 ERA and .306 batting average against as a starter but was 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA, tied for third in the AL among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched. He pitched a scoreless 10th inning in Houston's 13-12 victory over the L.A. Dodgers to pick up the win in Game 5 of the World Series.
"He has good stuff. The guy likes to compete and he likes to win and I think he can be in the rotation," Feliz said. "He brings to the mound a lot of energy."
Despite his success out of the bullpen, Musgrove made it perfectly clear his desire is to be a starter.
"I enjoyed my time in the bullpen. I learned a ton about myself and how to pitch at the big-league level," Musgrove said. "Whatever they need me to do, I'll do it but starting is where I feel I have a real chance to grow and develop as a pitcher."
Musgrove sees similarities in these young Pirates and the the Astros, who acquired him in 2012 in a 10-player deal that sent J.A. Happ to the Blue Jays.
Houston went from losing 111 games in 2013 to winning 101 last season, when they clinched their first World Series championship behind a staff that featured Dallas Kuechel, Justin Verlander, Brad Peacock, Lance McCullers and former Pirate Charlie Morton.
"Your lifespan in baseball is really short and everyone strives to be able play in the postseason and get a chance to play in the World Series," Musgrove said. "I was fortunate enough to win one in my first year. I am really grateful for that. I learned a ton in my first year. This is a really good team here. We've got a lot of young talent, and I'm really looking forward to bringing the things I learned over there and the experience that I gained over there to bring it over here to help this team out.
"It's a different ballgame in the postseason, and I had to learn really quick and learn on the run. The guys have all made it very clear that they want to talk to me and pick my brain and see the things that I learned and what I can bring over to help this team out. I'm really excited to share what I know."
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.