One Kuhl customer: RHP stays hot, leads Rox to series win

April 24th, 2022

DETROIT -- With 162 games in a season, there’s something to be said for having a short memory. A team that falls flat one night can dominate the next; an underdog can drop a Goliath on any given night. It’s the beauty of the sport.

The Rockies played out this mantra nearly to perfection over the weekend at Comerica Park, weathering a blowout series opener before countering twice to win their first series in Detroit since 2009. Rather than dwell on what could have been, Colorado steadily gained steam throughout, and by the time  took the mound for Sunday’s finale, all systems were go.

Hits and runs were plentiful, pitching was stingy and the defense efficient, and it added up to a 6-2 Colorado victory and good vibes all around as the Rockies head to Philadelphia for a four-game set starting Monday.

Probably most impressive about Sunday's display was the pitching.

Kuhl extended his season-opening dominance with another masterful outing, allowing just one run on four hits across six frames to capture his second win. In doing so, the 29-year-old righty became the first starter in franchise history to allow two or fewer runs through his first three starts of the season.

He’s also the first starter to accomplish that in the first three starts of his Rockies career, and he tamed the Tigers on Sunday without the use of his best fastball, relying instead on his slider -- which confounded the Tigers throughout.

“I think he’s focused,” manager Bud Black said. “He’s working on some things, and they’re showing up in the game, so the student part of that, I think, is something we’re excited about.”

To hear Kuhl tell it, though, Sunday was just business as usual.

“I’ve just been trying to trust my stuff in the zone, and being more in the zone with my fastball and not really worrying about the misses and trying to keep those big messes kind of minimized,” he said.

Heading into play Sunday, Kuhl was also the only pitcher in MLB with at least two starts and zero extra-base hits allowed. That changed in the third inning, when Tucker Barnhart drove a ball into the right-field corner for a double. Charlie Blackmon fired a laser to shortstop José Iglesias, who dove backward in an attempt to tag Barnhart before he reached second base, but his full-on leap just missed Barnhart to spoil Kuhl's streak.

Undaunted, Kuhl continued to plow through the Tigers’ lineup. He allowed one more single in the frame, an Austin Meadows liner that scored Barnhart, then faced the minimum in the fourth and fifth innings using a smart mix that saw him draw 14 whiffs on his slider, which he threw nearly half the time (38 pitches out of 81 total).

“I think [Kuhl’s slider] was probably the key today; the command and the sharpness to it; a legit pitch,” Black said. “To not have your best fastball and give up one run in six innings, that tells me something about the guy.”

And then, the offense.

The Rockies recorded 11 hits in the finale, four of them for extra bases. Blackmon led the way with a four-hit afternoon that included a double, and Randal Grichuk finished a triple shy of the cycle after a single in the first, his first Rockies home run in the third and a double in the fifth.

Leadoff hitter Connor Joe chipped in, too, doubling in the bottom of the fourth to extend his career-best on-base streak to 19 games (dating back to Aug. 30, 2021). The left fielder is slashing .327/.422/.600 this season, and has four doubles, a triple, three homers, five RBIs and eight walks.

The key to this weekend's success, Joe reiterated, was the quick mental turnaround.

“The first [game] did get away from us, and to bounce back a couple hours later -- it wasn’t even a day -- and play that well was great,” Joe said. “[Austin] Gomber gave us an unbelievable job out there [Saturday], and today, Kuhl, another unbelievable job. We’re playing good baseball right now, we’re excited about it, and it’s another series win, which we’re really excited about.”