Kuhl, Bucs' bats redeem rough start vs. SD

April 14th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- It took 51 minutes and 75 pitches just to get through the first inning. There were 17 walks, seven batters hit by pitches and three wild pitches in total.

But in the end, after the grueling four-hour, seven-minute game had been decided, the final score at PNC Park on Tuesday showed in the home team’s favor, as the Pirates took an 8-4 decision over the Padres.

“Sometimes, you win ugly,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “Tonight, we won ugly.”

The Pirates walked 13 batters and hit three batters with a pitch, which made them the first team to issue at least 16 combined walks and hit-by-pitches in a nine-inning victory since the St. Louis Browns on June 21, 1948.

“It’s surprising,” catcher said of winning that way. “I don’t know how many walks their staff had, but yeah. I mean, it’s surprising, but it’s baseball.”

set the tone for the weird night. He issued seven walks on the night, which were evenly distributed: two each in the first, third and fourth inning, plus one in the second. That total included a walk with the bases loaded to Jurickson Profar to give the Padres a two-run lead in the first inning.

Kuhl was wild facing the batter before Profar, as he plunked Tommy Pham on the helmet -- the second time he’s hit a batter in the helmet in as many starts. He also hit the Reds' Jonathan India with a pitch in the head during the first inning the previous Wednesday.

“He's just really inconsistent with his timing,” Shelton said. “His arm slot tends to drift, and when that happens you end up being rotational and you end up being out of the zone.”

In the second inning, Kuhl also snapped a streak of 38 consecutive innings without an error for the Pirates with a wide throw to first base on a pickoff attempt.

Kuhl said he felt the biggest problem was that his go-to pitches, like his slider, were “balls out of the hand.” He threw one slider for a middle-middle strike in the first at-bat, however it was deposited in the right-center-field bleachers by Trent Grisham.

Thankfully, the Padres’ starter was even more ineffective. Blake Snell, who won the 2019 American League Cy Young Award, got two quick outs but then was unable to retire six Pirates in a row, leading to an exit after just two-thirds of an inning.

Stallings led that charge with three hits and three RBIs. A defense-first catcher for much of his career, Stallings has now hit safely in five consecutive games, part of the reason he was moved to the No. 5 hole after beginning the season at No. 7.

“He’s not chasing. He’s not going outside of the zone,” Shelton said. “When that happens -- I think we saw it last year -- he really has good at-bats.”

In that five-game span of hitting safely, Stallings has routinely taken an extra base -- lining three doubles, including a two-run double in the first inning on Tuesday. In the process, the below-average runner has been dubbed “The Cheetah” in Pirates circles.

But it wasn’t just him. The Pirates were able to consistently do something the Padres failed to do: Hit with two outs. Six of Pittsburgh’s runs were driven in on hits with two outs.

“What we did in the first inning, Snell got the first two guys out in the inning and the rest of the damage was done with two outs,” Stallings said. “Just quality at-bat after quality at-bat. Just staying in the approach and just trying to battle and wait for a mistake.”

Still, the Pirates had to stay locked into a game that had Stallings bantering with home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza about the slog in the second inning. In a game that grinded on like this, how did he -- and the Bucsin general -- find a way to pull through?

“That’s the challenge of a game like that,” Stallings said. “Especially with the lead, you’ve got to figure out how to get a good lineup out and hope that you have enough energy to go up to the plate and hit.”