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Kuhl, 'pen power Bucs to 1st win streak in weeks

June 15, 2018

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in nearly a month, the Pirates have a winning streak. After holding on to win a close game in Arizona on Wednesday, the Bucs' second straight victory came in unusual fashion.The Pirates scored three runs without a run-scoring hit. The bullpen, which has cost

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in nearly a month, the Pirates have a winning streak. After holding on to win a close game in Arizona on Wednesday, the Bucs' second straight victory came in unusual fashion.
The Pirates scored three runs without a run-scoring hit. The bullpen, which has cost them several games over the last month, protected a one-run lead for three innings. The one part of Friday's 3-2 win over the Reds at PNC Park that felt familiar of late? Right-hander Chad Kuhl pitched six strong innings, but even that brought a twist, as his effort was rewarded with a win.
The Bucs are still 8-18 over their last 26 games, one game below .500 and in fourth place in the National League Central. But for the first time since winning three straight from May 15-17, they have some momentum on their side.
"Kind of a tough stretch," Kuhl said. "Two in a row's a good start."
And it began with a good start by Kuhl. The right-hander allowed six hits and three walks and struck out six over six innings in his first win since May 6. One run scored on a pair of hits and Scooter Gennett's sacrifice fly in the third inning. The next run, which gave Cincinnati a lead, was of Kuhl's own doing.
With two on and nobody out in the fourth, Kuhl fielded Matt Harvey's bunt and fired the throw well wide of third baseman Colin Moran. Adam Duvall scored the go-ahead run, and Kuhl found himself facing the top of the Reds' lineup with nobody out and runners on second and third. Initially frustrated, Kuhl composed himself behind the mound and retired the next three hitters in order.
"First time I think I've ever done that, so it's just a lot of anger," Kuhl said. "Just being able to put yourself in the situation. There's two guys on, no out -- execute pitches. Take a breath and keep going."
After Kuhl escaped, manager Clint Hurdle turned to bench coach Tom Prince in the Pirates dugout and said, "Pure baseball, we win this game for him being able to put a foot down right there."

Kuhl did it again in the fifth inning, when Josh Bell couldn't field Francisco Cervelli's throw after a bunt by Gennett. Again, Kuhl retired three in a row to end the inning.
Harvey kept the Pirates' lineup quiet for most of the night. The Bucs scored in the second inning when they loaded the bases but emerged with only one run. Gregory Polanco smoked a 109.7-mph line drive at Reds shortstop Jose Peraza, who dropped the ball but quickly turned a double play as Moran came home. Pittsburgh again loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth inning before Starling Marte and Moran hit back-to-back sacrifice flies to manufacture the tying and go-ahead runs.

"I think that's a testament to the lineup to be able to grind out runs and wins when you're not necessarily lighting up the scoreboard," Moran said. "Those are important, because you know you're going to have those games where you are clicking as a whole."

The bullpen hasn't clicked much at all over the last month, entering Friday with a 6.17 ERA over the Pirates' previous 25 games. Hurdle spoke before the game about eliminating some relief roles, creating new ones and getting more relievers involved in an effort to stabilize the group. It worked out, as Tyler Glasnow, Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez combined to shut down the Reds from the seventh inning on.
"Well-pitched off the mound for us, I thought, throughout the evening," Hurdle said.
Seal the deal:Billy Hamilton's speed and Joey Votto's patient at-bats have consistently frustrated the Pirates over the years. Vazquez had to beat both to finish the ninth inning. After Tucker Barnhart's two-out single, Hamilton entered as a pinch-runner and promptly stole second base to put the tying run in scoring position. Votto came to the plate with a double and a walk on the night. Vazquez got Votto to swing and miss on a pair of 98-mph fastballs, then Votto took a ball and fouled off three straight pitches -- two fastballs and a slider. Vazquez's last pitch froze Votto for the final out.
Votto has drawn three walks against Vazquez, but he is now 0-for-6 with six strikeouts in the matchup.
"He's a gutsy kid. That's a big-time at-bat," Hurdle said. "That's what you buy a ticket for, to see at the end of the game right there."

Kuhl has a 2.45 ERA over his last five starts, with four of those outings registering as quality starts, and struck out 28 batters in 29 1/3 innings during that stretch. He has completed six innings in six of his last eight starts.
Kuhl threw 29 sliders and 11 curveballs among his 93 pitches, according to Statcast™, so a career-high 43.01 percent of his pitches were breaking balls. Kuhl's last three starts have been among the top seven games in his career in terms of breaking ball usage, according to Statcast™ data.
"It's a heater-hunting league, especially when you throw a hard heater. Guys are trying to hit the heater, it's no secret," Kuhl said. "Throwing that [slider] a ton. Feel really comfortable with it. It's gotten me out of some really big jams, gotten me some strikeouts and some early action. It kind of does both for me. Just being able to throw that in any count has been huge."
"It's 162 games. There's going to be times where things go really well, really bad and a bunch of time in between. Not trying to dig yourself out in one game. Just trying to take it one pitch at a time and one at-bat at a time. Usually over the long haul, it works out." -- Moran, on how the Pirates can snap out of their rough stretch

Righty Ivan Nova will be on the mound for Saturday afternoon's contest against the Reds at PNC Park. Nova stuck out eight and allowed one earned run over 5 2/3 innings against the Cubs in his last start, a win in his return from the disabled list. Luis Castillo gets the nod for the Reds at 4:05 p.m. ET.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. Mason Wittner is an associate reporter for based in Pittsburgh.