The Pittsburgh Pirates have options to get Joe Musgrove more work

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Joe Musgrove has had anything but an ordinary Spring Training. However, the team’s early season schedule could help him get back on track.

In the most recent collective bargaining agreement, the MLB Player’s Association successfully bartered for more off-days for its players. As a result, the Pittsburgh Pirates — like many other teams — will have four days off over the season’s first month.

While the players will cherish that extra downtime before the dog days of the season come up on the horizon, the Pirates as a team may appreciate that time just as well, as it will allow more time for Joe Musgrove to round into form.

A cursed spring?

Musgrove, of course, was brought over to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of the Gerrit Cole trade. As such, there is certainly a fair amount of pressure on his shoulders. Whether it be the pressure of fan expectations, or perhaps some self-afflicted anxiety over proving he can be a viable major league starting pitcher, Musgrove has a bit to prove as he adjusts to his new club.

It must be unbelievably frustrating for Musgrove, then, to have to had such a fitful Spring Training. Initially shut down with shoulder discomfort early in workouts, Musgrove had not been able to get into game action until recently, and his poor outing yesterday against the Boston Red Sox was just his second Grapefruit League appearance. At this point in Spring Training, starting pitchers are starting to ramp up — take Jameson Taillon‘s five strong innings in his last start as an example — yet Musgrove still finds himself in the buildup-phase.

It all adds up to a pitcher who was penciled in for a starting role, but will likely need some more time to round into shape.

But, if the Pittsburgh Pirates were to take their time with Musgrove, the amount of off days in March/April would allow them to do so without sacrificing much. In fact, doing so may even provide some hidden benefits.

First, get that rotation right

As I type this, I just got off the phone with Chris Mack, 93.7 The Fan pre and post-game host. We were recording an episode of the Locked on Pirates podcast, and he had some great points about the depth of this starting rotation. Unfortunately, faulty – and at this point, I have to believe vindictive — recording software failed and reduced the conversation to a myth.

It all adds up to a pitcher who was penciled in for a starting role, but will likely need some more time to round into shape.

One of his key points was this: Though many are fond of saying that the Pittsburgh Pirates have starting pitching depth, it is depth with a drop off. There is clearly a drop off in performance among the team’s first three starters or so (for argument’s sake, we will label those as Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova and Trevor Williams) and the back end of the rotation. Sure, Chad Kuhl has some promise, but the back half of the rotation will have to perform well for the team to have any deigns on anything other than a middling record.

Sure, the Pirates could throw caution to the wind and start the season with Musgrove in the rotation, though he won’t be needed until April 8th. In fact, the math comes out showing that the club will only need a fifth starter seven times through their first 54 games. Surely, Musgrove can get enough side work to iron out any wrinkles and build up that shoulder to withstand the rigors of seven starts, right?

Perhaps. But perhaps sending Musgrove to Triple-A to start the season on a “rehab” stint of sorts will allow him to build up in a way that does not affect the big league club. The team could employ a “bullpen” day on April 8th, something that is obstensibly easier if they are carrying both Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow in bullpen roles.

Though they may feel differently internally, the Pirates cannot give away any games early in the season if they want to compete for a Wild Card. Going into those starts – even if it is just a few – with a less than fully prepared Musgrove would work against that feeling.

Get a look at some other guys

Keeping Musgrove down at the start of the season would also allow the Pittsburgh Pirates to get an extended post-Spring Training look at some “other” guys. Edgar Santana comes to mind.  The loser of the Josh Smoker/Kevin Siegrist bullpen battle can get some work in real live action before being relegated to a depth option. The team could even conceivably keep Jose Osuna in the fold before going on to keep 13 pitchers on their roster, which seems to be in the works.

It could be anyone, really. The point is that the Pittsburgh Pirates could use Musgrove’s 25-man spot to get a deeper look at player(s) who were on the post-Bradenton brink. The front office and manager Clint Hurdle put a lot of stock into the types of reps, the types of at-bats, the types of hitters faced when determining where a player is in his development. Getting a taste of major league action could do nothing but help them calibrate their thinking.

There are likely other benefits as well to keeping Joe Musgrove off of the 25-man roster to start the season, and the drawbacks of keeping a not-quite-ready Musgrove on the team’s Opening Day roster are just as many.

The decision made by the Pittsburgh Pirates could set their season off on a good note, or sour the team’s chances early.

Featured image credit – USA Today

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years. Jason's previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA) When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)