Padres starter Joe Musgrove will look to build off a career year in 2021 under new leadership in the clubhouse.
While he doesn’t garner the same attention outside of the San Diego Padres organization, Joe Musgrove was quietly the best pitcher in the rotation last year. The El Cajon, CA native was acquired in a three-team trade with the Pirates and Mets last offseason.
Musgrove was expected to anchor the back half of the rotation, with the top three featuring names like Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Mike Clevinger. Of course, the latter missed the entire 2021 season, recovering from two Tommy John surgeries.
Musgrove went on to post career bests in innings pitched (181.1), ERA (3.18), strikeouts (203), and WHIP (1.08). Heading into 2022, the 29-year-old will look to replicate that success in his second year with the Padres.
With the lockout pushing the start of spring training back, Musgrove and the rest of his teammates are ramping up activities quicker than in previous seasons. He has nearly 680 innings across six Major League seasons under his belt, so the right-hander is relying on his past experience for the physical preparations this spring.
Musgrove is primarily focused on the mental aspect in this shortened Spring Training.
“I think you want to get as comfortable as you can with your delivery and your release points and feel comfortable being able to attack the zone with all of your pitches,” Musgrove said via the Darren Smith Show. “For me, it’s more about getting my mind right […] Going through some situations, you walk a couple of hitters, and you have traffic early in the game, just re-engaging with those feelings and those emotions. I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of where I need to be when I’m out on the mound to be at my best. So it’s just trying to get into that headspace as soon as I can.”
Musgrove’s first season with the Padres was Jayce Tingler‘s last. The former Padres manager ended the team’s 14-year playoff drought during the 2020 season. However, a poor second half of the 2021 campaign ultimately led to the Padres’ front office making a change.
Out was Tingler, and in was Bob Melvin. The former Oakland Athletics manager had developed a reputation as a players’ manager, which aligned perfectly with what the Padres needed from their clubhouse leader.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys he’s coached in the past, and they have nothing but good things to say,” Musgrove said of his first impressions of Melvin. “He seems like a guy that relies on his players a lot and just gives us a lot of trust to kind of police ourselves and hold ourselves accountable.”
Despite consistently having one of the lowest payrolls, Melvin led the Athletics to six playoff appearances in his 11 seasons, including three first-place finishes in the AL West division.
Now, he enters a franchise that has shown the willingness to spend to compete over the last few seasons. Entering the 2022 season, the Padres have the fifth-highest payroll in Major League Baseball.
Of course, Melvin wasn’t the only change during the offseason. The Padres moved on from pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who was with the team for two seasons, and Ruben Niebla was tabbed as his replacement.
The former minor league Pitching Coordinator for the then-Cleveland Indians developed a plethora of pitching talent, including Padres’ Mike Clevinger.
“(Clevinger’s) been talking about him for years now. Ruben is very educated and very well-rounded in his approach to coaching and sharing information,” Musgrove spoke of his new pitching coach. “I do really well with a pitching coach that is very communicative back-and-forth with me […] His approach to pitching and for myself, especially for a lot of these young guys who are still trying to develop an identity of who they are as pitchers and what their strengths are and how they need to attack lineups, he does a really good job of giving you the information that shows you how productive your pitches are and in what quadrants of the zone.”
With the new hires in the team’s coaching staff, the Padres are hoping to meet their expectations from last season. Rightfully so, given all the moves that San Diego made both at the 2020 trade deadline and the following offseason, the Padres were tabbed as World Series contenders.
Instead, the Friars went from holding a playoff spot at the All-Star break to fading quickly down the back nine of the 2021 season.
For all the team’s inconsistencies from the first and second halves in 2021, Joe Musgrove was as steady as they come. The right-hander spun a 2.93 ERA leading into the All-Star break, pairing that with a 3.47 ERA in the second half.
As a group, the Padres pitching staff will look to take a monumental leap forward this season.
“From a pitching standpoint, we didn’t meet the expectations last year,” Musgrove admitted. “We dealt with a lot of injuries and underperformance in every aspect. Down the stretch of that last month or two of the season when we started to have that skid, it felt like things were blending into each other, the energy was dull, and that stuff is hard to pull out of. So going through what we went through, I think the experience and having gone through that before, we’ll have some adjustments for it when that roadblock does come at some point in the season.”
Melvin alluded to rewarding Musgrove for his career year in 2021, tentatively labeling the big right-hander as the Game 3 starter of the season, which would put him in line to start the home opener.