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Change does Kuhl good in first full season

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- The Pirates started the season with one version of Chad Kuhl in their rotation, and they'll end it with another. Pittsburgh believes Kuhl's change of identity also transformed him into a better pitcher.

Kuhl's season came to a close Wednesday night, when he allowed three runs over five innings and beat the Orioles in the Pirates' 5-3 win at PNC Park. The second-year right-hander made 31 starts this year, going wire-to-wire in the rotation, and posted a 4.35 ERA with a 1.47 WHIP and 142 strikeouts in 157 1/3 innings.

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WASHINGTON -- The Pirates started the season with one version of Chad Kuhl in their rotation, and they'll end it with another. Pittsburgh believes Kuhl's change of identity also transformed him into a better pitcher.

Kuhl's season came to a close Wednesday night, when he allowed three runs over five innings and beat the Orioles in the Pirates' 5-3 win at PNC Park. The second-year right-hander made 31 starts this year, going wire-to-wire in the rotation, and posted a 4.35 ERA with a 1.47 WHIP and 142 strikeouts in 157 1/3 innings.

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But there was a clear divide in Kuhl's season. He had a 5.58 ERA after his first 15 starts. Over his final 16 outings, he recorded a 3.38 ERA.

Video: CHC@PIT: Kuhl fans eight over seven scoreless innings

"He's just caught on to what he needs to do up here to be successful," manager Clint Hurdle said.

What changed? Kuhl learned how to handle the arsenal of pitches that grew early on this season, including a four-seam fastball that touched 99 mph and a curveball he seemingly pulled out of nowhere.

The righty is no longer dependent upon sinkers and sliders to induce groundouts. He showed that over the last two months, averaging more than a strikeout per inning over his final 10 starts.

"He became a different pitcher during the season. That's the thing that impresses me the most," Hurdle said. "The sinker-slider guy that we brought up here last season left town in May. The new guy showed up, and it's been fun to watch."

Kuhl's strikeout and walk totals ticked up in his second year, his first full season in the Majors, but his overall production was similar, as he posted an identical 99 ERA+ each of the last two seasons.

What can he take from the second half to improve next season?

"What it looks like to pitch with all my weapons," Kuhl said. "Being able to mix everything up, change speeds, change eye levels -- I feel like the second half has been so much better in all those categories.

"I feel comfortable with the pitcher I've kind of become, not just relying on sinkers down in the zone. Being able to have Plan B, Plan C when things aren't going right. It's been a transformation."

Around the horn
• The Pirates will start left-hander Steven Brault, not right-hander Trevor Williams, in Sunday's season finale. Williams, who had been on turn to start Game 162, is healthy; the Pirates just wanted to get another look at Brault, who will be making his fourth start.

So Williams has officially ended a successful rookie season with a 4.07 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP and 117 strikeouts in 150 1/3 innings. He proved to be a reliable back-end starter after joining the rotation on May 8, posting a 3.96 ERA in 25 starts.

"It's always funny. I look at the pitcher I am today vs. the pitcher I was last year, and I'm like, 'How did I get anybody out last year?'" Williams said. "You're always making adjustments. I feel great. I've made a lot of adjustments throughout the year, knowing what works and what doesn't work."

• Williams and a group of Pirates will visit with wounded troops on Friday at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

• Shortstop Jordy Mercer (left knee) was out of the lineup for the fourth straight game.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Chad Kuhl