Musgrove set to prove he belongs in rotation

Righty allows 1 run in 2-inning spring debut as he fights for staff spot

Musgrove set to prove he belongs in rotation

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch conceded earlier this spring that the team's best pitching staff likely includes right-hander Joe Musgrove as a part of it. However, that doesn't mean that Musgrove isn't going to have to prove himself to Hinch during the course of spring.

The 24-year-old right-hander, who went 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA in 11 starts (10 games) in his debut last summer, spent the offseason working out with fellow pitchers James Hoyt and Chris Devenski in San Diego to put himself in the best position to compete. He allowed three hits and a run -- on a leadoff homer to Asdrubal Cabrera -- in two innings in his Grapefruit League debut Monday, a 5-2 Astros win, knows there's plenty of more work to come in the next month.

"This is our preparation, and as much as I'm competing for a spot, I've got to make sure I'm ready and not getting outside of that," Musgrove said. "I'll be able to flush this one and pick out the things I need to fix and adjust and get ready for the next outing."

Musgrove, who flashed impeccable control throughout the Minor Leagues, is competing primarily with veteran Mike Fiers for the final spot in the rotation. Last year, he struck out 55 batters, walked 16 and allowed 59 hits in 62 innings after a solid showing in Triple-A.

Musgrove burst onto the scene on Aug. 2 of last year, striking out eight batters in 4 1/3 innings in relief of Lance McCullers Jr., who went down with elbow discomfort in that game against the Blue Jays, his former team. He moved into the rotation for the rest of the season and made a great first impression.

"Very rarely do you have a young pitcher come up and immediately blend in and feel like he can handle anything," Hinch said. "From his debut of coming out of the bullpen against his former team and being forced into the duty with the injury, all the way to making a couple of quality starts; he's got weapons, he's got composure, he's got competitiveness. He's got everything you look for in a starting pitcher in this league, and this is his first camp where he's entering camp as a legitimate [rotation] candidate."

Musgrove focused his offseason workouts on realigning his body, both physically and mentally. He says he wants to be able to prepare his mind for any uncomfortable situations. Musgrove took some lumps last year, including giving up eight runs and 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings in August in Baltimore, but he's hoping it just makes him stronger.

"I learned a lot about being able to control my emotions out there," Musgrove said. "It's tough when I get called up -- the excitement and adrenaline that runs through your body. You need to get outside yourself a little bit. … I've always been someone that likes to prepare and I put a lot of work in between starts, but I've learned I have to give myself the proper rest and make sure I'm healthy enough to stand a 162-game season."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.