BRADENTON, Fla. -- When Double-A Altoona's season ended in the Eastern League playoffs last year, Chad Kuhl figured he was headed home for the winter.But after the Curve lost to the Bowie Baysox, Kuhl was called into manager Tom Prince's office. His season wasn't over. He was going to start
BRADENTON, Fla. -- When Double-A Altoona's season ended in the Eastern League playoffs last year, Chad Kuhl figured he was headed home for the winter.
But after the Curve lost to the Bowie Baysox, Kuhl was called into manager Tom Prince's office. His season wasn't over. He was going to start for Triple-A Indianapolis in the International League Championship Series. A week later, he was going to pitch with the season on the line for a team that he hadn't been with all year. No pressure, right?
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"You're kind of worried, and you're waiting," said Kuhl, the Pirates' No. 16 prospect. "We ended up going down 2-0, and I was Game 4, so you do the math ... We lose one more, and I don't even get to pitch."
Kuhl did get to pitch, and his Triple-A debut was a gem: seven innings, four strikeouts, one run. Indianapolis went on to win the game -- Josh Bell capped a three-run rally with a walk-off single -- but lost the series in Game 5.
"It was just awesome to be given that second chance to win a championship," Kuhl said. "It was just an awesome experience."
It also was a fitting finish to an impressive year for Kuhl, who went 11-5 with a 2.48 ERA over 26 starts in Double-A. The 23-year-old right-hander was re-assigned Monday to Minor League camp after a month in big league Spring Training.
He will probably pitch most or all of 2016 in the Triple-A rotation, where he'll initially be overshadowed by top pitching prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. But with a power sinker and an improving slider, the under-the-radar right-hander also looks like he has a future in the Pirates' rotation.
Pittsburgh's front office and coaches covet pitchers who put the ball on the ground, and few do it as consistently as Kuhl.
"You really want the [fastball] movement. You want to miss the barrel," Kuhl said. "For me, it's all about efficient innings, trying to get deep into the game."
Oddly enough, Kuhl hasn't always been a two-seam fastball specialist. When the Pirates selected him in the ninth round of the 2013 Draft out of the University of Delaware, Kuhl said he leaned on a four-seam fastball and tried to strike out every batter he faced. He wanted to be an ace.
Not long after Kuhl began his professional career, Minor League pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell helped him perfect his two-seamer.
"That was a big switch for me," Kuhl said. "We put a lot of work into it, threw it every day, and it got better and better. It's gotten me here."
In big league camp, Kuhl sought advice from more experienced starters. He asked Bucs ace Gerrit Cole about his workout routine and his slider, seeking out a pitch to pair with a sinker that reaches the mid-to-upper 90s.
After the whirlwind finish that pushed Kuhl to Triple-A last season, he was grateful for the opportunity to learn from the pitchers alongside whom he may find himself pitching one day.
"They were really open -- a lot more open than I expected them to be," Kuhl said. "An amazing atmosphere here."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.