We all should have seen it coming. When Joe Musgrove’s first put on the Padres uniform, he took to the mound and pitched six flawless scoreless innings. Now in his second start for the Padres on April 9, 2020; he went on to etch himself in Padres history by pitching the team’s first no-hitter. He was in command of the entire game, and besides nailing Joey Gallo with a slider, Musgrove faced little opposition.
A Pitcher’s Pitcher
Musgrove was one of three key pitchers acquired by the Padres in the offseason as part of a three-team deal involving the Pirates and Mets. The Padres were clearly not done adding to the arsenal of their starting rotation. Yu Darvish and Blake Snell were clearly the more headline-grabbing acquisitions. But many analysts viewed Musgrove as a solid pick-up who showed a lot of upsides.
Musgrove was coming off his best year in the majors in the shortened 2020 season, pitching a solid 3.86 ERA. But no one could have guessed that between the Padres pitching acquisitions, Musgrove would have the best start to the 2021 season. Dating back to last season, Musgrove has gone on to throw 31 consecutive innings without giving up a run. Giving up only 10 hits, two walks, and striking out 44.
But, if you take a deeper dive into the stats of Musgrove, you will see why his acquisition was such a key move for the Padres and their bid for another post-season return.
Musgrove was one of two pitchers last year to have some of the highest whiff rates on two of their pitches. The other pitcher being the reigning Cy Young winner, Shane Bieber.
Joe Musgrove needed just 112 pitches to shut down the Texas offense. 62 of those pitches would come from both the curveball and slider. And if you dig even deeper, based on his 2020 season, he was rated in the higher percentiles for both chase rates and strikeouts. This compounded approach has led to throwing batters off their timing and leaving them off balance.
Calling the Game
Enough cannot be said about the stellar performance of Musgrove on the mound, but that is only half of the equation. The catcher behind the plate calling the game was Victor Caratini. Musgrove would refer to him as “a scientist” behind the plate. Caratini had previously caught a no-hitter last year for Alec Mills of the Chicago Cubs on September 13, 2020.
Musgrove would go to state in the post-game interview how Caratini knew how to approach each batter. Between innings, Caratini and Musgrove would discuss the lineup they would face before the start of each new inning. Joe Musgrove wasn’t the only Padre to make MLB history, Caratini has become the first catcher in MLB history to catch consecutive no-hitters for two different baseball clubs.
Defense is Key
There is no doubt that a little luck is involved in any no-hitter. The defense behind the mound must be at the right place at the right time. There is no discounting the fact that Padres defense had stepped it up this night in Arlington, Texas. They completed the game without completing a single error, something that couldn’t be said in their previous games leading them to lead the league in recorded errors.
Ha-Seong Kim especially made a key play in the 4th inning on a backhand grab. Kim would later go on to record the final out of the game as well. Some other key notable balls in play were a couple of hard-hit balls to J. Profar at first base and an especially hard-hit line drive that went directly to J. Cronenworth at second base late in the game.
A Storybook Ending
It took the Padres 8,205 games to throw a no-hitter. They were the last team in all of Major League Baseball to have not thrown a no-hitter. It took Joe Musgrove just two starts to finally surmount that obstacle.
Much of baseball is written on the field. It is a paradise for artists and writers to find metaphors and meaning in the game. It was quite simply a storybook ending to have a kid from El Cajon, who grew up a lifelong Padres, play for the team his dad grew up loving. Padres fans wouldn’t have wanted it any other way than to have a hometown kid break one of the longest streaks in baseball.