Laid-Back Musgrave Changes Approach

  • By John Antonik
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  • April 19, 2013 10:46 AM
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Harrison Musgrave wasn’t sure what to expect when he walked into West Virginia University baseball coach Randy Mazey’s office prior to Christmas break, but he certainly wasn’t prepared for what he got when Mazey told him to close the door and sit down.

Mazey really stripped the bark off, going from A to Z the things he thought Musgrave needed to improve upon if he expected to pitch for the Mountaineers this season. Musgrave’s eyes went from big to really, really big.

“That was a surprising meeting,” Musgrave said earlier this week. “I went in and didn’t expect to get challenged as much as I did because I didn’t think I had a terrible fall. But I believe they had higher expectations for what I was showing and he just kind of laid it on the line that if I didn’t improve and I didn’t get better I wasn’t going to pitch.”

“It was a shocker,” said Musgrave’s pitching coach Derek Matlock.

Musgrave, now a third-year sophomore who resides in nearby Bridgeport, W.Va., cracked the weekend rotation during his freshman season in 2011 and won four games for West Virginia before he hurt his elbow pitching in a conference game against Seton Hall.

“I threw a fastball and I started feeling some tingling in my fingers and I really didn’t think too much about it,” Musgrave recalled.

After that pitch, he walked around the mound to give his arm a little time to recover before toeing the rubber to throw another pitch. And when he did … pop. An intense, searing pain shot down his arm from his elbow all the way to the tip of his ring finger.

“I couldn’t really bend or move my arm for a while,” Musgrave said. “Fortunately it was the last pitch of my outing – I got the last out of the inning – and I just went over to my trainer and said, ‘Hey, I think there is something wrong with my elbow.’”

There sure was. The tendon was completely detached and Tommy John surgery was required to fix it. That led to a year of inactivity in 2012 and to his casual approach to fall baseball and physical fitness after Mazey was hired away from TCU to take over a struggling Mountaineer baseball program.

Mazey and Matlock are both high-energy guys and Musgrave’s mannerisms were clearly a little too casual for their liking.

“His big thing with me was always energy,” said Musgrave. “He’s a big guy on energy and my laid-back demeanor, as people call it, really butted heads for almost the whole fall.”

Then came the Christmas meeting.

“I took it to heart over winter break,” Musgrave admitted. “Before we started practicing as a team I tried to make it a point to fix everything, or most of the things that he wanted, to show him that I was trying to improve.”

“About four weeks later he was about 10 pounds lighter and you could tell he made a commitment to the plan,” said Matlock.

And the plan Mazey and Matlock have their pitchers on may wind up making Musgrave quite a bit of money. Musgrave’s fastball had never touched 90 mph before this spring and now he’s comfortably throwing it in the low 90s. Then last week at Liberty, he lit up the radar gun with one 94 mph pitch.

There are lots of guys who can touch 90 mph on the gun, but not as many of them are left handed. Well, Harrison Musgrave IS left handed, which for him translates into this long-time baseball equation: 90 MPH + LHP = $.

“He’s just got a great arm,” said Matlock. “He’s a special kid. I’ve been really surprised how fast he’s developed. He’s turning into a really good pitcher.”

You can say that again.

After a slow March, the chin-bearded Musgrave has come on in the last month or so, allowing just two earned runs in his last four starts against Texas Tech, New Orleans, Baylor and Liberty.

He owns a 5-1 overall record with a 3.15 ERA in 54 1/3 innings of work, including a 2-0 record in Big 12 play. Musgrave’s victories this year have come against Wake Forest, Kansas State, Texas Tech, New Orleans and Liberty.

Musgrave was also the starting pitcher in West Virginia’s big win at Baylor on April 5 although he didn’t earn a decision in the triumph. During last Friday’s shutout win at Liberty, Musgrave threw seven scoreless innings while allowing just three hits.

“He didn’t have some good outings early but lately I think his success has motivated him more,” said Matlock. “When you start thinking about getting some of that money in June with the draft, I think it pushes them.”

Actually, Musgrave said he thinks very little about the draft. It’s as if something like that is almost too good to be true for this small-town guy.

“I won’t buy into any of that,” he says. “If it happens it happens and if it doesn’t it’s not going to ruin my life.”

That’s just Harrison Musgrave being Harrison Musgrave.

“I went to college to play baseball and get a degree and if I get drafted it’s just a bonus, but it really doesn’t affect how I pitch,” he said. “Radar guns won’t determine if a hitter hits my fastball or anything else. I just try not to overthrow and overdo things just because people are there with radar guns.”

Musgrave has always been taught not to show any emotion out on the field and he admits that sometimes can be misinterpreted.

“I have a really bad habit of making it look sometimes like I don’t care and that kind of gets to the coaches sometimes,” he said.

Earlier this year against New Orleans, Matlock noticed Musgrave just going through the motions out on the mound in a game the Mountaineers were winning easily. Matlock kept looking over at the radar gun at Musgrave’s pitches and they were consistently reading in the mid-80s, far below what he was capable of.

So Matlock called timeout and jogged out to see what was going on with his pitcher.

“Hey Muss, man, what’s going on out here?” he said.

“I’m not really that fired up,” Musgrave said.

“Well, I think you ought to get fired up,” answered Matlock.

“It’s nothing against New Orleans, but it’s easier to go out and pitch and do stuff against Big 12 teams where you know it’s a conference game,” Musgrave said. “Sometimes in non-conference games when you score a lot of runs I wasn’t that concerned with it and my velocity kind of went down along with my emotions.”

That will change tonight. Musgrave is going to step on the hill at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in front of more than 5,000 fans to face one of college baseball’s blue bloods – Texas.

“I imagine it will be quite the experience with that many people,” Musgrave said. “Hopefully I can keep my nerves in check to where it doesn’t make pitching an issue.”

Matlock says he is not concerned at all. He thought back to a game earlier this year when Musgrave was painting the black with 94 mph heaters. After one perfect pitch to punch out a batter to end an inning, Musgrave just looked down, took his glove off and casually strolled off the field straight toward the water cooler.

“I’m like, ‘Hey man that was a big pitch’ and he’s like ‘it was alright.’ I’m like, ‘It was 94 on the black against one of the best hitters in the country’ and he’s like ‘it was OK,’” Matlock said, shaking his head in amazement.

No fist-pump, no emotion … nothing.

“It’s funny how he is,” said Matlock.

So funny, in fact, that in a couple of months Musgrave may be laughing all the way to the bank.

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Harrison Musgrave, West Virginia Mountaineers, WVU, Texas Longhorns, Big 12 Conference baseball