Kuhl returns to form, throws five scoreless

May 21st, 2017

PITTSBURGH -- Searching for answers after two rough starts, turned to the past. He watched video from his best games -- "when I was good," Kuhl said. He worked on his delivery with pitching coach Ray Searage, focusing on keeping his upper body over his back leg, and looked to regain the downward angle on his sinker.

Kuhl also received some advice Saturday from bench coach Tom Prince that resonated in his mind as he pitched five scoreless innings in the Pirates' 1-0 win over the Phillies on Sunday at PNC Park.

"Just go dominate," Kuhl said. "Go do your thing and go pitch."

Kuhl, 24, did his thing in a return-to-form performance. The second-year right-hander entered Sunday's rain-soaked series finale with a 6.69 ERA. He had allowed 10 runs on 16 hits over nine innings in his past two starts. He ran his fastball up to 99.5 mph against the Nationals on Tuesday, but high velocity is not necessarily a good thing for Kuhl.

"The guy that threw 99 against the Nationals, that's not who I am," Kuhl said. "The angle was getting away from me. That's something I really wanted to work on."

So Kuhl went to work in between starts, and he could tell a difference while warming up in the bullpen Sunday afternoon. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle could tell Kuhl was in good shape after his first two pitches, both low sinkers.

"There's arm-side sink right out of his hand. That was the first good sign," Hurdle said. "The ball was angled down with finish. … It was a very good step forward."

Kuhl carried a no-hitter into the fifth, when ripped a double to left-center field with one out. Kuhl then walked first baseman , prompting a visit from Searage. Kuhl then struck out on four pitches.

"He commanded his fastball well," Phillies shortstop said. "He was throwing most of them for strikes."

Finally, Kuhl ended a 10-pitch battle with opposing starter and got out of the inning by throwing a high, 96.4-mph four-seam fastball for a called third strike. Kuhl pumped his right fist into his glove as he walked off the field. The higher-octane fastball was still there when he needed it.

"There's times to elevate and there's times in previous games where I was throwing hard just to throw hard -- trying to get it by them, trying to beat them instead of doing what I do best," Kuhl said. "That's a good-angled fastball whether it's 93-94 or 96-97. That one works a lot better."

That showed throughout Kuhl's outing, which ended after 82 pitches only because the Pirates didn't want him to hit with a runner in scoring position with two outs in a scoreless tie. If not for that, Hurdle said, there was a "very good chance" that Kuhl would have pitched the sixth inning.

The right-hander recorded seven outs on the ground -- all of them in the first three innings -- and struck out five. If Kuhl ever finds himself in another rut like the one he broke out of Sunday, perhaps he can go back and watch video of this start.

"Sometimes you develop bad habits without even realizing it," Kuhl said. "You just try to stay with it, stick with it, hammer in flat grounds and bullpens and just keep going with it.

"It feels great to see it show up in the game, all the ground balls that I got today. It feels like you're on the right track. That's good."