PITTSBURGH — Chad Kuhl can probably throw 100. Clint Hurdle isn’t sure that’s a good thing.
Kuhl came tantalizingly close to hitting triple digits during his start against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, hitting 99.5 MPH with a two-seam fastball at one point.
On the season, Kuhl’s fastball had averaged 94.89 MPH coming into Tuesday’s start, and that played out about the same. His 26 four-seamers averaged 95.4 MPH and his 38 two-seamers checked in with a 94.4 MPH average.
But the variance was way up. His fastballs checked in as low as 90.6 and he had several over 98. Hurdle said that led to issues with pitch sequencing and separation between his pitches. The four-seamer wasn’t consistently faster than the two-seamer, which at times, was barely faster than his change-up.
“I think sometimes he just gets involved in the game and I’m not so sure the added velocity helps,” Hurdle said. “There was a time when his two-seamer and his changeup were playing at the same velocity. That’s not a good indicator, as well. You want some separation on those two pitches. He’s out there giving everything he’s got and sometimes, a kid giving everything he’s got gets in the way.”
Kuhl has had issues with overthrowing his two-seam fastball and flattening it out, but even then, he never regularly thew this hard. He said he wasn’t consciously doing anything different on the mound.
“Maybe a little bit, but it felt like it was just coming out hard and coming out smoother,” he said. “Obviously, throughout the course of the game, being aggressive, I feel like there’s definitely pitches that I overthrow. But for the most part, they were coming out hot.”
Kuhl is a competitive guy and not getting too fired up during the course of his starts is something that he’s still working through.
“I hate losing,” he said. “I hate falling behind hitters. It’s a really big challenge for me to just stay the course and not try to do too much.”
Hurdle mentioned that it’s a helpful reminder that despite the stuff, Kuhl has less than a year of experience pitching at the major-league level. That’s something that applies to three-fifths of the Pirates’ rotation right now.
“That’s the age-old argument that people have,” Hurdle said. “You don’t want young pitchers. You want guys with experience. Well, how do guys get experience? He needed to go out there tonight and actually try to put another inning out there after he had some turbulence to see what he could do. Tonight wasn’t his night, but sometimes, the best opportunity is to get on the mound and figure some things out about yourself and be your own coach. They need to find themselves. It’s still not a full year for him. He’s learning things every time he’s out there.”
If Kuhl can find a way to work his newfound velocity into something more consistent, it can certainly be a bonus for him. There aren’t many starters out there throwing two-seam fastballs at 100 MPH. But the Nationals didn’t seem to be fazed by the increase in velocity as they knocked in six runs on ten hits against Kuhl.
“I think the two-seam really was a little straighter and the four-seam was a mirror image of that tonight,” Kuhl said. “I think that’s why they were getting hit. A lot of the stuff was down, hard 95, 96, it was just all over the plate and didn’t have much movement, so it got hit.”
The other thing that held him tonight was the lack of an out pitch. Kuhl had three strikeouts — one came against his mound opponent Stephen Strasburg — but that came despite having ten two-strike counts.
“Execution was inconsistent,” Hurdle said. “Balls were elevated. Too much of the plate. With the secondary pitches, he got into some offensive counts and wasn’t able to put balls where he wanted to.”
Kuhl did have some success against the one area he struggled with his last time out — left-handed hitters. He retired the first five he faced, including a strikeout of Matt Wieters.
“I feel like I get trashed just because you see a couple of bad numbers against the lefties, but if you look at all my strikeouts, most of my strikeout numbers are against left-handed hitters,” he said. “It’s kind of a catch 22. I’m kinda just pitching my game against them. It comes with practice, what works and what doesn’t and obviously, big-league, left-handed hitters can hit the ball really well. … I feel comfortable against lefties. If they get me, they get me.”
Of course, Kuhl doesn’t treat left-handers the same as right-handers when it comes to which pitches he throws. He had discussed using his four-seam fastball as an addition weapon against left-handers earlier this year. That worked in the first inning, as he got Bryce Harper to pop up on an elevated four-seamer. His changeup — a pitch more typically associated with a righty against left-handers — got Harper to ground out in the third, but poor execution of it led to a two-run home run by Wilmer Difo in the fourth. Kuhl was pretty displeased with that pitch afterward:
“Bad location. Bad movement. Just bad.”
Gregory Polanco (left hamstring) and Felipe Rivero (neck) both did not play. … Daniel Hudson pitched the fifth inning as opposed to his customary eighth-inning role. … Josh Harrison hit a solo home run and a double to go 2 for 5. … Adam Frazier was also 2 for 5 with a double and an RBI single. … Andrew McCutchen went 0 for 4 and was removed from the game as part of a double switch before the eighth inning.