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BSN Exclusive: The rookie who could solve one of the Rockies' biggest needs

Patrick Lyons Avatar
August 12, 2018

DENVER – Friday night’s win against the Los Angeles Dodgers came off the heels of the bullpen providing 3.1 innings of shutout baseball against the NL West leaders, tying the series at one apiece.

Rockies starting pitcher Jon Gray had surrendered four earned runs in five innings of work and was approached the one hundred pitch mark having already thrown 97 pitches.

Leading off the sixth inning for the Dodgers was left-handed hitting Max Muncy, who had homered in his previous at bat against Gray. Had he reached base during the inning, fellow left-handed hitter Joc Pederson would also get an opportunity.

In game one of the series Thursday night, both Muncy and Pederson contributed pinch hit home runs off the right-handed pitching Scott Oberg.

Though the left-handed pitching Harrison Musgrave was the first man to warm up in the Rockies bullpen, manager Bud Black opted to stay with his starter.

After the game, Black explained his decision.

“Jon said he felt fine. I trust Jon. I liked the way Jon has been throwing the last two-and-a-half, three weeks, so I sent him back out.

Muncy doubled to left field on a four-seam fastball against Gray. When Pederson strolled to the plate after two quick outs, Black motioned to the ‘pen for his rookie left-hander with two outs and a runner on third base.

Musgrave was candid before Saturday’s game about his big spot in Friday’s game.

“I warmed up the inning before to face Muncy in case he came up. Pederson was the next lefty up once Muncy got on base. I’ve thrown to him a few times in Spring Training and the season. So, I’d faced him a good bit. I went out and did my job.”

Pederson hit a fly ball to left field that closed out the sixth inning, keeping the score close.

Musgrave’s familiarity with Pederson played to the advantage of the West Virginia native.

“I’ve seen him enough to get a feel for what to throw and executing is the main thing. Pederson is a pretty free swinging guy. So, if pitches look good in the zone and (goes outside the strike zone), he swings a little bit.”

It wasn’t long ago that it would have seemed unlikely for Musgrave to be called upon in such a big spot, particularly because he hadn’t been used as a reliever the duration of the career as a professional.

When he stepped onto the field against the San Diego Padres for his major league debut on April 23, he did so for the first time as a reliever in four-plus seasons in the minors.

“The first couple outings we piggybacked (starting, then relieving) when we first got drafted in Grand Junction. Since then, I hadn’t relieved in a regular season game. So, this was the first time.”

This appearance was the culmination of years of hard work for the West Virginia native.

“An obvious dream-come-true situation. Very excited for myself, my family and everybody else. Trying to enjoy it.”

Before game one of a pivotal NL West series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Musgrave discussed his process for getting ready for a late-inning match-up like the one against Pederson.

“You kind of see who’s on the bench and you look at the innings you would probably come in and if you come in, who would you face. You look back at the people I’ve thrown against this year and see what worked, what didn’t. How to adjust and stay ready. Pitch to your strengths. If your strength is one thing and it’s also their strength, you play the odds that your strength is going to get their strength out.”

One of Musgrave’s strengths is getting warm quickly, an ability many new relievers can struggle with after years of being starting pitchers.

“I’ve always been one of those people that I don’t take a long time to get loose to get warmed up to go pitch. The hurry mentality you have to have in the bullpen wasn’t a really big transition for me. It’s worked out pretty good so far.”

During a ballgame, Musgrave’s attention shifts to the action on the field and the changes made throughout the game. This focus sharpens at key moments.

“Especially when we have lefty starters. (Anderson) and Freeland, they pitch similar as far as velocity and pitches that they throw. Myself and Rusin, when they’re throwing, you pay more attention when lefties are up. I can relate to (lefty pitchers) a little bit more then when Marquez comes out throwing 99-mph.”

Preparation for his role in the bullpen actually came during Spring Training when many young starting pitchers in the minors get to experience appearances out of the bullpen against big leaguers in March.

“You look at how they react to the pitches. They’re getting ready for the season too, so they’re not as sharp as they are in the season and neither are we. You see how they react to the certain pitches that are thrown.”

One of the pitches opposing hitters have been reacting to from Musgrave is his slider.

It’s certainly something that goes away. I left a couple up and the one he hit was a little higher. I kept it off the main part of the barrel. Against lefties, the slider is certainly a confident pitch for me to throw as many times as I need to.”

In the at bat against Pederson last night, Musgrave began the count at 2-0 with sliders that moved out of the strike zone. He followed up with two more sliders, the final one an 84-mph slider that finished the threat in the sixth inning.

Musgrave has done well in his three outings since returning from the disabled list on July 24th from a hip injury, pitching to a 2.70 earned run average in 3.1 innings of work. It’s a small sample-size, but the results have been positive, nevertheless.

As the Rockies continue to look for a consistent left-hander to stabilize their bullpen, Harrison Musgrave will continue to do all he can to be that player.

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