Joe Musgrove Continues To Prove His Worth In Pittsburgh Pirates Victory

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 16: Joe Musgrove #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the second inning at Comerica Park on April 16, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. All players are wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - APRIL 16: Joe Musgrove #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the second inning at Comerica Park on April 16, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. All players are wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

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On Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers kicked off a two-game series at Comerica Park in Detroit

The first 15 games of the season have had a little bit of everything for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Most importantly, those 15 games have included 9 victories. The ninth of these victories came by a score of 5-3 over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night.

With this victory, the Pirates are now 9-6 this season. Through the first 15 games of the season this team has proven to be a team filled with heart and fight. The heart and fight of the Battling Bucs of 2019 was on full display once again on Tuesday night.

In January of 2018 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros. the center piece of this trade was fellow starting pitcher Joe Musgrove. After bursting onto the scene for the Pirates in 2018, Musgrove is off to a great start in 2019.

Tuesday night was his third start of the season, with a six up six down relief appearance thrown in there. So far this season, Musgrove has proven his worth and shown why he was the key piece in the Cole trade.

Musgrove retired the first six batters he faced before allowing back-to-back base hits in the bottom of the 3rd inning. On the second hit, a single by Grayson Greiner, Musgrove got some help from his defense when left fielder Pablo Reyes gunned down Gordon Beckham at the plate for the first out of the inning.

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In the bottom of the 4th inning, the Tigers recorded four consecutive hits off of Musgrove. These four hits, combined with a passed ball that was charged to Pirate catcher Francisco Cervelli, led to the Tigers scoring a pair of runs. After this, the Tigers had runners on the corners and just one out.

Big Joe would then put a foot down recorded back-to-back strikeouts to prevent the Tigers from scoring any additional runs. These two strikeouts was the start of a stretch of 10 in a row retired by Musgrove.

When his night was over, Musgrove allowed just two runs (one earned) on six hits, a walk, and six strikeouts in 7 innings of work. After this outing, Musgrove now owns a 0.81 ERA this season as he continues to prove his worth. If Musgrove continues to show why he was the key piece of the Cole trade, it will go a long way toward turning the Pirates into postseason contenders.

Tuesday night’s positives did not end with Musgrove.

Entering the game Pirate third baseman Jung Ho Kang was in a massive slump and had been given three consecutive days off. He would start to burst out of this slump on Tuesday night.

In his first at bat he lined a single to left field. His second time up, he launched a two-run home run to left field. His second home run of the season was the first allowed this season by Detroit starter Matthew Boyd, and gave the Bucs a 3-0 lead in the top of the 3rd inning.

On Tuesday night, Kang looked the best he has in a week or two. If this game gets Kang going at the plate again that will be a huge boost for the Bucs. In my opinion, an argument can be made that Kang is the team’s most important hitter this season. If he can reach his 30+ home run potential, then the Pirate lineup will improve immensely and look like one of a contender.

The positives continued in the bottom of the 8th inning when Richard Rodriguez took the mound.

After allowing back-to-back solo home runs with two outs and the Pirates leading 2-1 in Saturday’s loss against the Nationals, Rodriguez was looking for a bounce back outing. This was exactly what he’d get.

Rodriguez allowed a one-out single, but retired the other three Tiger batters he faced. This included a pair of strikeouts. All of a sudden, Rodriguez appears to be righting the ship. In his last 6 2/3 innings pitched he’s walked one batter, struck out seven, and outside of Saturday’s solo home runs the lone hit he’s allowed was the single he surrendered on Tuesday night.

Unfortunately, the positives vibes ran out on the 9th inning.

With Felipe Vazquez unavailable after throwing 42 pitches on Sunday, the struggling Keone Kela was summoned to pitch the 9th inning with the Pirates leading 3-2. To start the inning Kela got ahead of Christian Stewart 0-2, the wheels would then come off.

Kela hung an 0-2 curveball to Stewart that was ripped into right field for a double. Jeimer Candelario then singled to tie the game at 3. After a wild pitch moved Candelario to second base, Kela would settle in to retire the next three batters to keep the game tied after 9 innings.

There is no way around it, Kela is a mess right now. He has always been a slow starter, but right now he is missing his spots with regularity. This was a major issue again on Tuesday night. In 6 2/3 innings pitched this season Kela has now allowed six runs on three home runs, three walks, and eight strikeouts.

The good news is Kela’s stuff has remained strong. The issue has been an inability to hit his spots with consistency. Typically, this points to a release point issue which is something Kela and pitching coach Ray Searage should be able to fix. If they can not fix it, the Pirate bullpen could be in a lot of trouble.

While the 9th inning was depressing, the positive vibes returned in the 10th inning!

Jason Martin singled off of Shane Greene to start the top of the 10th inning. Then with two outs, Starling Marte launched his second home run of the season to left-center field. His blast gave the Bucs a 5-3 lead, and were the first two runs allowed this season by Greene.

With the Pirates back in front Clint Hurdle made the, ummm, interesting decision to go with Nick Kingham over Kyle Crick in the bottom of the 10th inning. Thankfully, Kingham would reward Hurdle for his trust. Kingham retired the Tigers in order to pick up his first career save.

Tuesday night was not the best of games from Hurdle. He made a poor decision to have Marte bunt with two runners on and no one out in the top of the 5th inning. After Martin singled to start the 10th inning, he had Erik Gonzalez bunt which was also a poor decision. Luckily, Marte bailed him out in the 10th inning.

Going to Kingham over Crick in the bottom of the 10th inning was mind boggling as well. All of that said, the Bucs still walked away victorious on Tuesday night which is what matters. However, Hurdle needs to be better moving forward.

The 2019 Pirates are looking like a group of fighters. Teams filled with heart that fight and never quit are damn difficult to beat. Combine that with the strong pitching staff that Neal Huntington has assembled, and the 2019 Pirates are shaping up to be a fun group.

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The second and final game of this abbreviated series is scheduled for 6:40 on Wednesday night. Trevor Williams (2.45 ERA, 4.07 FIP), who owns the lowest starting pitcher ERA in the Majors since July of last season, will make his fourth start of the season for the Pirates. Rod Gardenhire and the Tigers will counter with righty Spencer Turnbull (4.80 ERA, 3.54 FIP).