Before Thursday night, Chad Kuhl had seen the seventh inning only twice in a Major League game: once in Milwaukee last August, again in Boston this April. The Delaware native finished the seventh for the first time Thursday night in front of family and friends at Citizens Bank Park, and he may have his brother-in-law to thank for it.
All night, Kuhl said, he could hear his brother-in-law, who sat closer to the field than the rest of his family. Manager Clint Hurdle heard him, too, especially when Kuhl was due up in the seventh; Kuhl's personal cheering section didn't want to see him leave the game. Kuhl stayed in the game and gave up two more runs, but he still picked up the win in the Pirates' 6-3 victory over the Phillies.
"I think one of his brothers wanted to make sure he got to pitch the seventh," Hurdle said. "So I'm happy for him. … I know [Kuhl is] going out there, so it was good. We sent him out there.
"He earned the opportunity. These guys need to continue to knock down mile markers as they go along and become big league starting pitchers, and he was able to do that."
Tested by a series of short outings -- he didn't record an out in the sixth inning in 12 straight from April 24 to June 25 -- Kuhl has now put together back-to-back quality starts. Those outings came against the Giants and Phillies, two of the Majors' least-productive lineups, but they nonetheless represent a step forward for Kuhl.
"It could very well be one of his best outings in the Major Leagues," Hurdle said.
Kuhl held the Phillies to three runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks while striking out three on 95 pitches in the longest start of his Major League career. Over his last seven starts, the 24-year-old right-hander has posted a 3.55 ERA.
"It's just obviously awesome it set a career high in innings," Kuhl said. "It's awesome."
After getting ahead of only one-third of the hitters he faced Saturday, Kuhl threw 20 of 24 first-pitch strikes against the Phillies. He let his defense go to work behind him and benefited tremendously from left fielder Jose Osuna's three assists -- two on back-to-back plays in the second inning, one in the seventh after Aaron Altherr's game-tying single -- and three ground-ball double plays.
"Huge, huge help," Kuhl said. "Just trying to get back to what I do best, get the ball on the ground. They were 100 percent out there. They were awesome."
The atmosphere was equally exciting for Kuhl, who grew up watching the Phillies in nearby Bear, Del. He said he left 18 tickets for his family. Add in the friends and fellow University of Delaware products who paid their own way, and he figured he had more than 50 fans there for his second career start in Philadelphia.
"Coming back here, it's always special," Kuhl said. "It's cool just to be in the dugout, on the field -- the things you weren't allowed to do just coming here as a fan. And then [the] icing on the cake is just doing well."