Kuhl in mix for success; Blach takes center stage

March 17th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Chad Kuhl respects the difficulty of pitching at Coors Field, but the Rockies’ newest starting pitcher believes his pitch mix is a tool for success.

“Being able to throw a two-seamer, something that sinks, a lot of my stuff is up and down and not too much side to side,” said Kuhl, 29, whose signing (one year, $3 million) became official on Wednesday. “Just in my brief conversations, my pitch mix and the profiles of my pitches, we believe will play well.”

The 2021 season with the Pirates – with whom he debuted in 2016 and spent his whole career -- went strangely for Kuhl. He felt he had found his footing during a nine-start stretch over June and July (3.61 ERA, .226 batting average against). However, after Kuhl missed time because of COVID-19, the Pirates decided to put him in the bullpen rather than have him rehab in the Minor Leagues.

In 14 games covering 13 1/3 innings, he posted a 6.75 ERA. However, five of the earned runs came against the Cubs on Sept. 2. Pittsburgh liked him enough to move him into higher leverage roles and approached him about moving to the bullpen full time. But Kuhl wasn’t warm to the idea, and the Pirates non-tendered him in November.

With most of the rotation intact and coming off a year where all weren’t consistently healthy, the Rockies didn’t want to leave a spot to one of several pitchers with few Major League starts (Ryan Feltner, Pete Lambert) or none (Ryan Rolison).

Blach takes center stage

Expected members of the starting rotation and bullpen will not pitch in the consecutive games against the D-backs to open the Cactus League schedule. But non-roster lefty Ty Blach, who will start Thursday’s Spring Training opener at Salt River Fields, is a serious candidate for the Opening Day roster.

Blach, 31, a product of Regis Jesuit High School in Denver, pitched for the Giants (2016-19) and Orioles (2019). He was 16-22 with a 4.99 ERA before undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2020. Kuhl’s signing gives the big league club a full rotation, barring injury, but Blach (92 games/44 starts) has the most Major League seasoning of other competitors.

Fully healthy and built up since the start of Minor League camp, Blach can slide to long relief if he isn’t in the rotation, but he will pitch as a starter in camp.

“He has a pretty resilient arm,” manager Bud Black said. “We want him out there. I want to see him. I’ve seen him good in the past when he was with the Giants.”

One of Blach’s earliest memories were as a 3-year-old going to the Rockies’ inaugural game at Mile High Stadium where “sitting down the right-field line, being really loud,” on the day Eric Young opened Colorado home history with a leadoff homer. Blach also was at the opening of Coors Field in 1995. Well, he watched most of the 14-inning victory over the Mets, won by a Dante Bichette homer.

“It was really cold and, then being a youngster, it was kind of past my bedtime,” he said. “My parents did let me stay up and watch it.”

Taking the western road

The Rockies’ revised 162-game schedule, announced on Wednesday, offers two interesting twists. Both of their scheduled doubleheaders are at San Diego, on June 11 and Aug. 2. The slate ends not only with a nine-game road trip, but a potentially tough one in the National League West -- three at San Francisco (Sept. 27-29) and six games at Dodger Stadium (Sept. 30-Oct. 5).

Arriving soon

Catcher Elias Díaz was slated to arrive in Scottsdale on Wednesday. Outfielders Raimel Tapia and Yonathan Daza, and right-handed pitcher Yoan Aybar, have yet to arrive at camp. The lockout created issues with the work visas of some players who are not U.S. citizens or residents.