As Joe Musgrove suffers a shoulder injury, Padres will face even more adversity


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SAN DIEGO — It was difficult Friday for some people around Petco Park not to think back to two years ago, another Friday that underscored the fragility of even the best-conditioned athletes.

On July 31, 2021, just after that year’s trade deadline passed, Chris Paddack strained his left oblique during a bullpen session. Just hours later, Fernando Tatis Jr. re-dislocated his left shoulder sliding into third base. The San Diego Padres, over the next two months, never gained much forward momentum. Instead, they collapsed.

Time will tell how Aug. 4, 2023, fits into the bigger picture of another season of elevated stakes. In the moment, the day’s developments at least served as multiple reminders of the fleeting nature of even accomplished major-league careers.

Friday morning, the Padres announced that Cole Hamels and Craig Stammen were retiring, both late-30s pitchers finally halted by shoulder injuries of their own. It was a theme, if not an omen: Friday afternoon, just three days after this year’s trade deadline, the team announced that Joe Musgrove had significant inflammation in his right shoulder capsule, would not throw for three weeks and might not return this season.

Musgrove, perhaps San Diego’s most reliable starter, sought to downplay the ripple effects.

“The impact I have on the team is once a week, so we’re counting on the guys in this room a lot more than they’re counting on me on a daily basis,” Musgrove said as he stood at his locker. “I don’t think they’re feeling out of this thing now that I’m injured. So, they’re gonna keep playing baseball the same way. They haven’t lost sight of the goal. My job is to just crush this rehab and get back as soon as I can.”

Friday night, the Padres set out to show they are better equipped than two years ago when their rotation disintegrated and Musgrove was the only starter to not miss a turn.

It was a promising beginning. Yu Darvish held the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs while completing seven innings for the first time in nine starts. The ending, though, was marred by a collapse.

In what became a 10-5 loss, setup man Robert Suarez yielded five runs, an opportunistic Los Angeles team added three runs in the ninth and the Padres wasted a chance to climb back to .500 for the first time since May 11. Instead of securing just its seventh one-run win, San Diego managed to turn a late lead into a lopsided deficit.

“It’s another one of those games that we’ve been through this year that’s been really frustrating and we’re right on the verge of getting somewhere we want to go,” manager Bob Melvin said. “So, another tough gut punch for us, but typically we come out and respond the next day.”

How the Padres (54-56) respond over the coming weeks will determine their fate. Friday brought the first of 22 consecutive games against teams presently above .500 — including four teams ahead of them in the jumbled National League standings. Musgrove, who has logged a 1.84 ERA since May 26, will not pitch in any of those games. The earliest he might return is sometime well into next month.

“Joe’s the leader of this clubhouse, and we all know how good he is on the mound,” Darvish said through interpreter Shingo Horie. “So, it’s a big blow, but he needs to get that rest right now, and just looking forward to him coming back in September.”

Musgrove had pitched through what felt like manageable shoulder stiffness for a couple of starts. But after his latest outing — six scoreless innings against the Texas Rangers late last week — he noticed he was recovering far more slowly than usual. From Denver, where the Padres were playing the Colorado Rockies, he flew back to San Diego on Tuesday night. He underwent an MRI the following morning and later consulted with three specialists, including prominent orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

The consensus: A three-week shutdown was the best course of action. Surgery is not yet a strong consideration, though future imaging or an arduous rehab process could change things. Meanwhile, it is already too late to bring in sizable reinforcement from outside the organization. The trade deadline has passed, and the Padres are at least thankful they acquired a back-of-the-rotation starter in Rich Hill and a bridge reliever in Scott Barlow.

“It’s kind of hard to replace a pitcher like (Musgrove), to be honest, but this is what you got to do, you know?” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said after Friday’s loss. “You got to go with who we got.”

“It stinks, man,” reliever Nick Martinez said. “He’s a leader in this clubhouse. He’s a leader in this city. Every time he takes the mound, he has an entire city behind him, and you can feel that.”

The Padres do appear to have more in reserve than they did in 2021. Veteran Michael Wacha, on the injured list himself because of shoulder trouble, could return soon after making a rehab start with Triple-A El Paso on Saturday. Hill is scheduled to make his Padres debut Sunday. Martinez, who made an emergency start Wednesday in Musgrove’s place, remains eager to find his way back into the rotation. Pedro Avila on Tuesday allowed one run in a four-inning spot start at Coors Field.

“Joe not being able to pitch for us is always a big loss, but we have some guys that are able to step in and hopefully keep us afloat, and (we will) see if Joe’s able to make it back here this year,” president of baseball operations A.J. Preller said.

Would Preller have done things differently — like, say, trade for another starter after acquiring Hill — if the Padres had known Musgrove would miss at least a month of the most critical stretch of the season?

“At the time of the deadline,” Preller said, “we honestly were not looking at Joe as missing a few weeks or extended time or anything like that.

“It wouldn’t have been, hey, we don’t have Joe, so we got to make a move and do something that … we don’t feel like is best for us in the long term or in the short term. We do feel like … we’ve got some depth, and we’re gonna use it.”

Musgrove, for his part, did not seem to harbor many regrets. He acknowledged Friday the possibility that his various injuries this year — a fractured toe suffered in spring training; an AC joint injury sustained in a subsequent rehab appearance; a persistent case of elbow bursitis — may have helped bring about his latest ailment. He and others around the clubhouse also pointed to his dedication to his training and the fact he had still flourished on the mound.

A three-week rest might not be the worst thing — as long as Musgrove successfully returns in September.

“It’s a chance to really give everything a chance (to recover),” Musgrove said. “I’ve got all kinds of stuff going on.”

Indeed, that this might be the 30-year-old’s most impressive season speaks to his ability to perform in adverse circumstances.

The Padres, as a whole and despite a recent surge, have lagged behind. Friday night, they finished 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. Suarez threw a career-high 33 pitches, only 17 for strikes, as a 3-2 lead turned into an 8-3 hole.

Melvin, afterward, defended his decisions to lift Darvish after only 82 pitches and intentionally walk Jason Heyward to load the bases after Suarez fell behind 2-0 against the lefty hitter. Suarez unintentionally walked the next batter as the Dodgers went ahead, 4-3.

“We’ve got Suarez and (closer Josh) Hader ready for the eighth and ninth. Just couldn’t get to the ninth. Unfortunately, (it was) a little bit of an off night for Robert,” Melvin said. “But again, we get down to the last two innings, and when we have those guys fresh and ready to go, we feel like we’ve won the game.”

Asked about trying for Hader’s first four-out regular-season save since 2020, Melvin said: “I don’t think we’re there yet. And Robert’s just come back (from the IL last month). We always feel good about Robert.”

There was agreement from inside the clubhouse.

“Tonight just wasn’t a good night,” Suarez said through interpreter Danny Sanchez, “but I’m still giving 100 percent, and it’s on to tomorrow.”

“I think every day of the week you’ll take Suarez in the eighth and Hader in the ninth with a one-run lead,” Bogaerts said.

Juan Soto celebrates with third base coach Matt Williams after hitting a home run in the ninth inning against the Dodgers. (Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

In the end, however, the story was the same as it’s been for so much of this season. The Padres failed to execute in a tight game when it mattered most. Meanwhile, they watched as their opponent did just that. The first-place Dodgers, of course, have made it a habit — this in spite of the fact that San Diego, for the first time, is fielding the higher payroll.

“(They’re) playing to their abilities. You know, obviously, we have a lot of names, but for some reason, we haven’t played the way each of us would want to play so far, maybe except Juan (Soto),” Bogaerts said. (Soto, after Friday’s ninth-inning solo shot, has homered in three consecutive games for the first time since 2019.) “But those guys are tough, man. Look at the whole lineup. It’s, like, .800, .900 OPSes up and down.”

In Friday’s loss, the top three hitters in the Padres’ lineup — Ha-Seong Kim, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Soto — each finished with an OPS above .800. Everyone else settled at .775 or below.

San Diego might have upgraded its depth with the deadline acquisitions of Hill, Barlow, Ji Man Choi and Garrett Cooper, but plenty more adversity awaits. With 52 games left, the Padres must follow Musgrove’s example while he watches from the sidelines.

(Top photo of Joe Musgrove pitching for the Padres in July against the Rangers: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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