MIAMI -- It’s one thing to have a veteran starter on the mound, one trusted by manager and teammates alike during jams. It’s another for said starter to have no wiggle room, magnifying every so-called mistake.
That’s been the case for Chad Kuhl over his past four starts. Rockies manager Bud Black has near-universal trust in veteran Kuhl, who signed as a free agent with Colorado following the lockout. It helps that Kuhl has pitched for his fair share of struggling organizations -- he spent 2021 with the Pirates.
Black has been especially pleased with Kuhl’s in-game awareness and his ability to make adjustments on the fly, which were on full display in Wednesday night’s 7-4 loss to the Marlins at loanDepot park.
“In games, there’s poise,” Black said pregame. “You can talk strategy, you can talk mechanics, you can talk pitch selection in a very poised and professional manner.”
Kuhl was solid through the first two innings, allowing only a pair of walks in the first, one of which was negated thanks to a stellar throw from Elias Díaz and subsequent tag by second baseman Brendan Rodgers to catch Jazz Chisholm Jr. stealing. (It should be noted that Rodgers had a solid game, including a diving catch that was the epitome of “stop, drop and roll” in the eighth inning.)
The third inning got sticky, though.
After allowing a leadoff single to Miguel Rojas, who then stole second, Kuhl gave up a one-out RBI triple to Jon Berti. Kuhl yielded four more hits that inning, including a two-run homer that gave Miami a 4-1 lead, before he struck out Jesús Sánchez swinging.
So Kuhl went back to the dugout and chatted with pitching coach Darryl Scott to make an adjustment. Other managers might have yanked Kuhl after that home run, but not Black. He chose to give his starter another chance.
“The ball got elevated,” Black said. “And he tried to make the adjustment [after a mound visit from Scott], he just couldn’t. The backbreaker was the home run to [Garrett] Cooper -- fastball up, he tried to go down and away and just didn’t get it, and Cooper got the bat on it.”
“I felt like I had really good life on the two-seam [fastball],” Kuhl said. “I felt like I got super predictable in that third inning. I was throwing a lot of offspeed pitches, I was getting ahead with speed and trying to finish it offspeed, instead of starting offspeed and maybe changing it up and going heaters. But I just felt like it was just a difference of letting my fastball play in the zone and trusting it a little more.”
Kuhl pitched two more innings and finished his outing by retiring the final seven batters he faced. Though he lacked adequate run support -- just one run scored while he was on the mound, thanks to a leadoff triple from Yonathan Daza and a one-out sacrifice fly from Charlie Blackmon in the first inning, marking just the second run of support he’s received in his past four starts -- Kuhl continued to grind, much like the rest of his squad.
The righty credited his depth of experience for his in-game awareness.
“That’s just from throwing more and getting older," Kuhl said, “and learning that, you know, that inning isn’t everything. You have to keep going no matter how embarrassing or bad or ugly it looked.”
The combination of that one four-run inning and the Rockies’ inability to get runs across -- they went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded six men on base -- meant that even the mini rally from Díaz in the ninth, when the catcher hit a three-run homer, didn’t matter in the grand scheme of a 162-game season.
“If you’re going to start 33 times, there are going to be runs of games where maybe you don’t get a lot of run support,” Black said. “But when you do get them, you’ve got to make them hold up. And if you don’t get them, you got to keep your team in the game.”