When Joe Musgrove reported to spring training to start his sixth big league season, a brown and gold No. 44 San Diego Padres jersey was hanging in his locker.
The No. 44 is a nod to Jake Peavy, the fiery right-hander Musgrove grew up cheering for. Musgrove continued to follow his hometown Padres even as his big league career unfolded elsewhere, and now he’ll get to pitch at Petco Park as part of a powerhouse rotation San Diego is counting on to take it deep into October.
“Putting on that jersey for the first time the other day was pretty special, and just hearing all the feedback from my family and friends about how good it is to see me in a Padres uniform,” Musgrove said in a videoconference Saturday from Peoria, Arizona.
Musgrove is among the big leaguers making a homecoming of sorts this spring. Just up the California coast, there’s NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, who grew up near Los Angeles listening to Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully and signed a $102 million, three-year deal with the Dodgers this month.
Elsewhere, a number of players have returned to teams where they had success: James Paxton with Seattle, Chris Archer in Tampa Bay, Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs, Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox and Jed Lowrie in Oakland.
“This is where I wanted to be,” Arrieta said. “The last few days here, it just feels right.”
Musgrove was obtained in a trade with rebuilding Pittsburgh on Jan. 19, the third big trade Padres general manager A.J. Preller made after Christmas to restock the injury-depleted rotation. Preller also obtained Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in blockbuster deals that are expected to make the Padres one of the best teams in the majors this season. Darvish, Snell and Musgrove have all pitched in the World Series. Only Musgrove has won a ring, with Houston in 2017.
Musgrove said he was an energetic and emotional player as a kid, which is why he idolized Peavy, the 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner.
“Going to Padres games and seeing Peavy, you know, snot flying and grunting and fist-pumping, that was just kind of who I felt I was as a player and seeing a big leaguer at that time doing the same thing kind of gave me the confidence to go out there and be myself and play the game I wanted to,” Musgrove said. “It’s pretty special for me to wear 44, and I know there are a lot of expectations with it and I’ve got to do the number right.”
Musgrove goes from a Pirates team that had the worst record in the majors to what should be a heated NL West race with the eight-time division champion Dodgers.
He might wind up sharing the rubber with Bauer, introduced last week at Dodger Stadium, where he attended games as a kid with his father, listening to Scully’s call through headphones. Bauer was born in North Hollywood, attended high school in Santa Clarita and pitched at UCLA.
“A lot of people have told me, `If you can play for the Dodgers, you should. It’s first class, the best that I’ve ever experienced,”‘ Bauer said. “I’m just excited to be here for those reasons.”
Paxton, Seattle’s one-time ace, said a number of teams were interested in signing him but he decided to return to the Mariners – a team he threw a no-hitter with in 2018.
“I think that coming back to Seattle was the best long-term decision for me, looking forward in my career and what I want to do,” the left-hander said. “I want to get back to being myself this year. I really struggled last year coming back from the back surgery, and I’m comfortable here in Seattle. I love the group here, and I’m excited to be part of it.”
Familiarity is also why the defending AL West champion A’s brought back Lowrie for a third stint, on a minor-league deal, despite the infielder’s medical struggles.
Lowrie was limited the past two years by knee injuries and played only nine games in 2019 for the New York Mets and none last year. He has not played the field since 2018, when he was an All-Star with Oakland.
“I saw what he did for us in 2018, and that alone was enough for us to hope that he can still impact our team,” A’s general manager David Forst said this week. “Obviously he had a rough last couple of years, dealing with a knee injury that we think is taken care of now.”
Arrieta is looking forward to his return to the Cubs on a $6 million, one-year deal. His former catcher, David Ross, is now the Cubs’ manager.
Now 34, Arrieta helped the Cubs win the World Series in 2016 and threw no-hitters in consecutive seasons.
“To play for a manager that caught one of my no-hitters is pretty cool,” Arrieta said Saturday.