East County Sports

Astros’ Musgrove thrust into role after McCullers injury


EastCountySports.com staff report


HOUSTON – When JOE MUSGROVE got called up to the major leagues for the first time Monday, he probably thought he might get into the game when the Houston Astros went six deep into their bullpen in a 14-inning win over visiting Toronto that night.

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Musgrove talks with reporters on Monday after being recalled by the Astros.

Good thing for the Astros they didn’t use the versatile Grossmont High grad in the marathon against the bombing Blue Jays, the team that originally drafted him.

Musgrove was summoned to duty on short notice Tuesday night when starter Lance McCullers, Jr., son of the former San Diego Padres fireballer, had to leave the game trailing, 2-0, with an apparent elbow injury.

Enter Musgrove.

The 23-year-old came on with a runner at second at two out, but struck out Edwin Encarnacion to end the fifth, then locked up Michael Saunders with great location on the inside corner to start the sixth. He retired the next two hitters on hard outs to shortstop and right field.

Musgrove opened the seventh with another K, this time it was former Padre Melvin Upton, Jr. Then, he got Josh Thole to chase a biting breaking ball in the dirt, which required 2-3 putout. Finally, Darwin Barney watched strike three – a 92-mph four-seam fastball – as Musgrove struck out the side and five of the first seven batters he faced.

The Astros then tried to reward the rookie with a win, as they picked up their first run in the bottom half of the seventh to make it 2-1.

Musgrove went to work in the eight, getting a helpful bounce off the bag to fellow rookie Alex Bregman at third base, which he backhanded rather routinely behind the bag and easily had time to gun out Jose Bautista at first.

He followed that up with battle against Josh Donaldson, which saw the Jays slugger get a couple of good foul ball whacks on a cutter, then a curve on 3-2 pitches before disposing of him with a curve down and away.

Musgrove then got Encarnacion looking to give him seven strikeouts in his first 10 hitters faced in the major leagues.

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The authenticated ball from Musgrave’s first major league strikeout.

He was perfect.

Musgrove had tied the team record for strikeouts in a debut as reliever with one-time all-star Don Wilson, who did it back on Sept. 29, 1966 vs. CIN. in only ’66 app. Wilson was 21 at the time.

Musgrove, who started in 52 of his 76 career minor league appearances, had his debut extended into the ninth, with the Astros suddenly-depleted staff in need of some rest.

Saunders walked, but Musgrove got Kevin Pillar and Devon Travis on fly balls. Upton, Jr., then singled over third, putting runners at first and second with two outs. With Josh Thole stepping in, Musgrave’s first move was to second base, which just missed as shortstop Carlos Correa just missed a bang-bang tag on Saunders.

Thole worked a 3-1 count against the right-hander from El Cajon, but he chased a high fastball for strike two, then swung and missed as a curve ball down and in, once again, giving him eight strikeouts in his debut, setting the Astros’ team mark for a reliever in his ML debut.

The eight whiffs are the most Ks in relief by a pitcher making his MLB debut since Barry Jones (8) did it with the Pirates on April 20, 1986.

He walked off with a excited reaction, pumping his torso and shouting into his glove, as he finished a historic debut in a critical role during the Astros’ pennant race.

Houston failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, leaving the Astros 5 games back in the AL West and 2 1/2 back in the wild card race.

Now, more importantly, the question for Musgrove will be what will his new role be with the Astros after such a tremendous debut and the possible elbow injury to McCullers.

Mark and Diane Musgrove own a coffee hut, but it now likely their son will be up in the bigs for more than just a cup of Joe.

Earlier in the day, Musgrove tweeted thanks to his manager a Double-A Corpus Christi.


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