Kuhl earns Opening Day start for Pirates

March 29th, 2021

After eight years in the Pirates' organization and a long road back from Tommy John surgery, will be the club's Opening Day starter this season.

Pirates manager Derek Shelton made the announcement Monday on the AT&T Sportsnet broadcast of the team’s 5-3 loss to the Twins. The right-hander, who has never made an Opening Day start before, will face the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Thursday at 2:20 p.m. ET, opposite Chicago ace Kyle Hendricks.

Kuhl has pitched for the big league club since 2016, recording a 4.36 ERA in 72 career games (70 starts). He started the road back from Tommy John surgery performed in ’18 by working in a piggyback role to begin the ‘20 season, and he ended the year with a seven-inning shutout against -- who else? -- the Cubs.

“Obviously, it’s an honor to look across the league and see all of these big-name guys who are getting the ball on Opening Day,” Kuhl said on Saturday about the possibility. “It’s a fun day. It’s an honor. But whoever gets it, they’re going to be more than deserving.”

Shelton said the announcement was special, but it also had a surprise. , another candidate for the Opening Day start before he injured his left arm in camp, was hiding in pitching coach Oscar Marin’s office when Shelton delivered the news to Kuhl. The two are the longest-tenured starters on the Pirates after the offseason departures of Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams..

“Two guys that have been together, to see them share a hug [was cool],” Shelton said. “I think Steven was as happy for Chad [as he was], so that’s kind of a cool moment.”

This season is sure to be special for Kuhl regardless of the Game 1 start. He is a new father after the birth of his son, Hudson, on March 19. The newest Kuhl has already gotten some reps cheering on his dad in Spring Training, and Chad’s wife, Amanda, said Monday was also a big day for Hudson, who lost the last of his umbilical cord.

“Haven’t pitched in front of my family since the end of 2018,” Kuhl said Monday. “So it was just things like that, being able to pitch in front of fans and my family in the stands, I think that’s going to be the most special part about this whole thing.”

Kuhl extends a streak of first-time Opening Day starters for the Pirates. From 2017-20, Gerrit Cole, Iván Nova, Jameson Taillon and Joe Musgrove, respectively, each earned their initial nod.

“Even a guy like Chad, who has been in the Major Leagues for a while now and obviously experienced a lot of things, the first time you get that ball for Opening Day, it is a different thing,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “We’re really excited and happy for him.”

The Pirates have had to work to get Kuhl stretched out enough to take the ball in Game 1. In his most recent start on Saturday, he went two innings, then threw two more innings on the back fields.

“That’s obviously the main thing, I guess,” Kuhl said. “I’m going to go as long as I can until Shelton takes the ball from me. I’m sure there’s a number, but that’s not really in the back of my mind at all.”

In the grand scheme, Kuhl said an Opening Day start is just one of many achievements he hopes to have this season. Once it’s over, the real grind begins. But there’s no doubt it’s a special honor.

“There’s only 30 guys in the league that get to do it,” Kuhl said, “so to be one of those 30, it’s just really, really cool.”