September offers Pirates pitcher Joe Musgrove opportunity to improve
With 25 games left this season, the Pirates, as is the case for most MLB teams out of playoff contention, will use September in some sort of trial-and-error period.
A healthy list of transactions with Triple-A Indianapolis is to be expected, as are tweaks in the fielding lineup and batting order. Additionally, pitchers who have struggled — case in point Mitch Keller (1-3, 8.62 ERA), who starts against the Marlins on Tuesday night — will get a chance for self-improvement.
But this month won’t strictly feature the rookies and greenhorns trying to tighten their bolts. September presents just as much as an opportunity for more-tenured players.
Take Joe Musgrove, for example. In his latest outing Saturday night in Denver, he turned in a quality start and earned his ninth victory of the season.
During his start, Musgrove experimented with a tweak to his delivery while switching things in his pitch variation. The point? Take the remainder of the season as an opportunity to challenge himself in game situations.
“As starting pitchers, we talked about trying to get something out of this last (month),” Musgrove said. “(We want to) try to improve on our games and challenge ourselves to create new sequences and things that we want to work on and implement next year that you can’t really get in a spring training atmosphere (or) during the offseason.”
Thus, while fans certainly can easily write off the importance of September for the Pirates (60-77), a closer look at this final month of the season can reveal intricacies worth noting.
On an inning-by-inning basis, Musgrove undertook lots of little changes to his game he hopes will combine and lead to a continuous impact.
“I’ve (been) fine-tuning my delivery out of the stretch with runners on base, throwing pitches in certain counts that I normally wouldn’t, throwing pitches to right-handed hitters that I normally don’t and trying to eliminate any bit of predictability,” he said.
In regards to his delivery tweak, Musgrove said he did see a notable increase in velocity on his fastball. He has been clocking in about 91-92 mph for most of the season, but Saturday, he was hitting 93-94 mph.
Of course, it takes two to tango, and for pitchers, their partner is the catcher. For Musgrove, that’s been Jacob Stallings, and they have developed a good rapport.
“I can’t say enough about Jacob,” Musgrove said. “I’m going to owe him something nice at the end of the season. He’s really helping me grow as a pitcher and helping me understand what I do well and how to navigate certain lineups.”
An example was how Musgrove and Stallings attacked Rockies second baseman and No. 5 hitter Ryan McMahon on Saturday.
McMahon hit a home run in his first at-bat, but after that, Musgrove and Stallings kept him off the bases and struck him out twice.
“On the homer, we tried to double up on the cutter,” Stallings said. “He swung and missed the pitch before (the home run), and then (Musgrove) left it over the middle and it just kind of backed up on him. (Later) we went to the breaking ball. You try to learn from when guys make you pay and what pitches they hit.”
The moral? Musgrove and the Pirates can improve in more ways than the win and loss columns this month.