Kuhl progressing positively in Tommy John rehab

August 23rd, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- It was just a bullpen session -- 25 fastballs and changeups in an empty ballpark, hours before game time. But for , it felt good to feel normal again.

Kuhl made the trip north to join the Pirates this week at PNC Park while continuing his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. He had already thrown bullpen sessions at the Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Fla., alongside rehabbing reliever . Still, there was something special about getting back on the mound Tuesday at PNC Park.

Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk called it “a landmark” and “an unbelievable step in the right direction” for Kuhl.

“Obviously just putting on the big league uniform and being out in a big league stadium, big league bullpen, everything kind of feels better,” Kuhl said. “I got here and I was doing [pregame] stretch with the team, and I was like, ‘My legs aren’t sore! I feel good!’ It was kind of a different feeling. It felt really good.”

Since undergoing Tommy John surgery last September, Kuhl has been working his way back with an eye on being ready for the start of the 2020 season. So far, so good.

“I just want to help,” Kuhl said. “I can help in little ways, hopefully being a positive influence when I get here, but knowing I can’t help on the field is rough. The motivation has always been the same, though. Whether we’re in first place or last place, [I’m] focused on getting myself back and being the best version of myself that I can be to help this team next year.”

Kuhl threw another bullpen session on Friday afternoon, again using only fastballs and changeups. He will soon progress to 30-pitch side sessions during which he will mix in his slider, another landmark in the long recovery process.

Santana, who underwent Tommy John surgery early last October, is on a similar timeline. The right-handed reliever joined Kuhl during previous trips to Pittsburgh, but he remained in Florida this time for a good reason: He has a newborn to spend time with.

It’s difficult to predict how Kuhl and Santana will be, performance-wise, after their respective elbow reconstruction surgeries. But both will be welcomed back by a Pittsburgh staff that lacks depth this season.

Santana emerged last season as a quality late-inning reliever, posting a 3.26 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 69 appearances for the Pirates. Kuhl put together a 4.37 ERA in his first 61 starts for Pittsburgh, and the 26-year-old was still learning to harness his arsenal at the time he was injured.

The Pirates are in need of rotation help for next season, as they’ll be without Opening Day starter Jameson Taillon while he recovers from his second Tommy John surgery. It’s not quite clear if Kuhl will fit somewhere on the starting staff, but that’s his hope.

“I’ve always been a starter. I’m planning on being a starter,” Kuhl said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team.”

Around the horn

• Before Friday’s series opener, the Pirates reinstated reliever Kyle Crick from the suspended list. It was the Pirates’ first game with a full active roster since Aug. 2, when Keone Kela began serving his 10-game suspension. Manager Clint Hurdle, Kela, Jose Osuna and Crick all served suspensions stemming from the Bucs’ benches-clearing brawl in Cincinnati on July 31.

• This is the Pirates’ first series against the Reds since that fight took place at Great American Ball Park, resulting in suspensions for six players and both managers and fines for a handful of other players. Hurdle did not think there will be any lingering tension this weekend.

“I’m absolutely confident that everything’s resolved,” Hurdle said.

• With the Pirates’ lineup struggling to score runs, Hurdle tweaked the batting order on Friday. Shortstop Kevin Newman hit leadoff against right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, with Adam Frazier -- who typically bats first against right-handers -- bumped to the seventh spot.

• The Pirates on Thursday promoted right-handed reliever Blake Cederlind, their No. 28 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, from Double-A Altoona to Triple-A Indianapolis. Cederlined gave up three runs on five hits over 1 2/3 innings in his Triple-A debut on Thursday night, but his fastball reportedly touched 101 mph.

Before his promotion, Cederlind earned rave reviews from Altoona pitching coach (and former Pirates closer) Joel Hanrahan.

“Unfortunately, he reminds me a lot of myself. That’s why I love him,” Hanrahan said, laughing. “It’s a power sinker. He’s got a slow breaking ball and a hard breaking ball. He’s learning how to use his weapons and use them effectively. There’s no fear in there.”