Since July 1st, the Curve are 16-6 in games started by either Chad Kuhl or Steven Brault, while they are 14-24 in games started by any other pitcher. In those two months, Kuhl has a record of 6-1 with a 1.38 ERA, while Brault has a record of 8-2 with a 2.01 ERA. Interestingly, Kuhl and Brault are first and third in the Eastern League in ERA since July 1st, while two other Curve pitchers are worst and third-worst in the league during the same span.
Obviously, as the Curve make a run toward the Eastern League playoffs, they will rely heavily on Brault and Kuhl. As the pitching schedule lines up now for Altoona, Kuhl would have two more starts while Brault would have one. Kuhl’s second start would be the last game of the season, so if the team has a playoff spot clinched by that game, the team would probably hold off on pitching him until the first playoff game.
So, what has made both Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault so effective over the past two months? Let’s take a look at Chad Kuhl first, and you will notice some similarities between the two, even though they are very different types of pitchers.
In July and August, Chad Kuhl has been the best pitcher in the Eastern League with his 1.38 ERA. He has the fourth best WHIP (1.01) in the league during that time, as well.
More impressively, Kuhl also has a ground ball rate of 64.5% in the past two months. His GO/AO rate is 2.65, which is good for second best in the Eastern League. He has been able to keep himself out of trouble because he has consistently kept his fastball down in the zone and worked both sides of the strike zone extremely well. When Kuhl gets in trouble, it is usually because of leaving a ball up in the zone. This happened in his one bad start during this stretch on August 1st, when Akron took him deep three times. After that one start, Kuhl actually skipped a start as to try to limit his innings pitched. He was probably beginning to tire after a full workload all season leading up to that start.
Otherwise, Kuhl’s success has been because of his fastball location down in the zone and the ability to use his slider consistently.
“The slider consistency has been his biggest improvement,” Pitching Coach Justin Meccage said about Kuhl. “We’ve spent so much time working on that slider, and it has improved tremendously. On top of that, the fastball has been down a lot, and he’s moved it around well.”
Kuhl has transformed into a pitcher that has three pitches all working well, including his changeup. His velocity has also been notable, throwing both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, with the two-seamer being his most used fastball, and it is coming in around 94-95 MPH. He has been able to touch 98 MPH late in the season on a few different occasions.
Steven Brault has been equally as impressive in the last two months.
Brault began July with a couple of tough outings, but he has been almost unstoppable in his last nine games. Since July 18th, Brault has a 1.10 ERA in nine starts (57.1 IP).
Brault, like Kuhl, has been able to work his fastball around both sides of the plate and keep it down in the zone. The command of all of his pitches has been extremely impressive of late, with Brault having the ability to essentially place the ball wherever he wants. He has been able to throw a lot of first pitch strikes and get ahead in counts, something that the Pirates organization has stressed.
Brault, a lefty, will throw his fastball in the upper-80s or low-90s, a changeup and slider in the mid-80s, and a curveball that sits between 80-82 MPH. Brault is different than Kuhl with the fact that velocity won’t overwhelm you, but he uses a lot of deception in his pitches. Specifically, left-handed hitters are batting .172 with a .419 OPS against him. Overall, he has never given up a home run against a lefty in his professional career, and he has only allowed nine home runs total in three years of professional baseball.
“He doesn’t give up home runs, and it is really difficult for a left-handed hitter against him,” Meccage said. “If you stand behind him, he throws across his body, and he comes from a very difficult spot for a left-handed hitter to pick him up. It’s a three-quarters slot, but he’s across his body. A hitter will feel like he is right on them. Then, he has to ability to go to the other side of the plate so they really have a hard time picking him up.”
Brault has matured this season by recognizing that he can’t always stop a batter from hitting the ball; rather, he wants to control what the batter does when he does hit it.
“I’ve learned to trust my stuff and be confident,” Brault said. “Letting the hitters do what they do — they are going to hit the ball. Now, it’s my job to be more effective with it and make them hit my pitch and go the way I want them to go. I want to go for efficiency and attack hitters, and it has worked out well.”
His goal is to get ground balls and allow the defense to work, and he has done that beautifully over this recent stretch, with a 54% ground ball rate since July 18th. When he misses, he misses low, so hitters haven’t been able to do much damage against him.
Both Brault and Kuhl have learned to trust their stuff and control what they are able to control, rather than working outside of their comfort zone.
“Both of those guys have really good stuff,” Meccage said. “With some young pitchers, they don’t realize how good their stuff actually is. I think that Kuhl and Brault are figuring out how good they really are.”