ST. LOUIS -- Getting to the sixth inning wasn't the problem for Chad Kuhl on Sunday night at Busch Stadium. Getting through it, however, proved to be more difficult.Kuhl pitched into the sixth but didn't record an out, instead putting the game in the hands of the Pirates' leaky middle
ST. LOUIS -- Getting to the sixth inning wasn't the problem for Chad Kuhl on Sunday night at Busch Stadium. Getting through it, however, proved to be more difficult.
Kuhl pitched into the sixth but didn't record an out, instead putting the game in the hands of the Pirates' leaky middle relief and setup corps. Pittsburgh's lead quickly evaporated, and the Bucs went on to lose to the Cardinals, 8-4, missing a chance for their first three-game series sweep in St. Louis since 1991.
"It was my own doing," Kuhl said. "Just got to be better."
Kuhl had not thrown a pitch in the sixth inning since April 18, a stretch of 11 starts. Coming off five straight five-inning starts, he overcame a rocky second inning to get into the sixth on 88 pitches with a 4-2 lead. He mixed high-velocity fastballs -- he struck out Stephen Piscotty with a 99 mph pitch in the first inning -- and a sharp slider.
In his first five innings, Kuhl threw 30 sliders, according to Statcast™, and induced nine swinging strikes on the pitch. To that point, the average exit velocity of the four sliders put in play was a meager 57.9 mph. That changed in a hurry, however.
The first batter Kuhl faced in the sixth was Randal Grichuk. After starting with a sinker and a changeup, Kuhl threw four straight sliders. Grichuk hammered the fourth one, down and in, a Statcast-projected 478 feet to left field with an exit velocity of 109.3 mph.
"I was able to stay back enough to be able to put a good swing on it," Grichuk said.
Kuhl then fell behind against Yadier Molina, gave up a double to center field and was pulled from the game. Manager Clint Hurdle was more encouraged by the positives of Kuhl's outing than he was disappointed in what went awry at the end.
"There was a lot of good to hunt," Hurdle said. "I thought he made some improvements tonight. I thought he made better pitches. I thought he showed some growth."
But given the state of their bullpen, it is difficult for the Pirates to survive most five-inning starts.
Tony Watson relieved Kuhl and quickly recorded two outs, one of them on a sacrifice bunt. Pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko bounced a game-tying ground-rule double to right-center field. John Jaso gave chase, but it would have been a tough play; according to Statcast™, Gyorko's fly ball had a 14 percent catch probability.
Juan Nicasio got the call in the seventh. He walked the first two batters he faced, although ball four to leadoff man Tommy Pham appeared to be in the strike zone, and then served up a go-ahead single to Molina on a 98.1 mph fastball down and away.
"I wanted it low and away, but he made a good swing and he connected well," Nicasio said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez.
The Cardinals scored another run when shortstop Jordy Mercer booted an Aledmys Diaz ground ball, bringing an end to Nicasio's night. The Cards tacked on two more when Paul DeJong's grounder off Jhan Marinez slipped under a drawn-in Mercer and into left field.
Trailing by four, the Pirates weren't able to get the ball to Felipe Rivero, their lights-out late-inning weapon. Removing Rivero from the equation, Pittsburgh's relievers have combined to post a 4.71 ERA this season.
"It's a tough situation. Of course it's going to bother us," Nicasio said. "When the sixth inning comes up, the team depends on us and it's our responsibility. … No, that's not something that we enjoy or like at all."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.