INDIANAPOLIS – The 2016 season got off to a rocky start for Chad Kuhl, with some doubts about whether he could build on a strong 2015 campaign when he was shut down the in the Spring with some arm soreness. This led to him missing some time with Indianapolis at the beginning of the campaign. However, he returned with no issues, making his sixth start of the year on Wednesday night. Kuhl is now where he wants to be physically.
“I feel great,” Kuhl said. “The arm is feeling better each time that I am going out there. I had that little hiccup in Spring Training with just a little soreness. I am back up and now everything is 100 percent.”
Heading into Sunday’s games, Kuhl is the team leader with a 1.10 ERA in the prospect-packed Indianapolis rotation. He is also just behind Jameson Taillon for the team lead in WHIP, with an 0.89 to Taillon’s 0.81.
Kuhl has also gotten back to where he left off last year, picking up countless ground balls with his strong sinker. In his past three starts, it has been much more dramatic with a 30:5 GO/AO ratio. He also has a 54% ground ball rate on the season, and that has jumped to 65% in the last three outings.
The next step for Kuhl will be nearing the end of getting stretched out, and that has him excited to not have any limits. With the success he has seen, the inning restriction has come into play much more than the pitches. For example, in his May 6 start, he was limited to just six innings and met it in only 78 pitches.
“I was shut down, so I had to build up,” Kuhl said. “I was what every other starter was, just at a later date. I had to do the three inning, the four inning, two fives, and I am at six now. I am sure that [after this] I will be able to go seven. From then on out, it will be 100 pitches or however long I can go.”
The sinker, which sits in the mid 90s, while touching 97, has been a pitch that has allowed Kuhl to limit those pitches at times.
“Obviously, you want to go out and have [the sinker] as a main pitch,” Kuhl said. “You get all of those ground balls and throw deeper into games. It is a big pitch for me and it has been working well.”
The velocity with the sinker is something that quickly catches the eye. Following his first season of pro ball, Kuhl saw an uptick in velocity that couldn’t help but get attention. Kuhl attributes the increase to adjusting to the professional game and learning what works.
“I think, my first year, I wasn’t throwing that hard and kind of kept it the same,” Kuhl said. “As I got used to pro ball and throwing every five days, just tweaking what I did to recover, things like that. Just knowing what works and what doesn’t work. Staying in the weight room and taking care of things there have contributed to throwing harder and maintaining that velocity.”
While the sinker has played well early in the season, Kuhl has also made tremendous strides with the slider and change-up.
“We have really devoted a lot of time to the [slider] and the change-up as well,” Kuhl said. “Having those, just for more pitches and more for the hitter to consider, and not just being a one trick pony with the fastballs. But having off-speeds are definitely helpful to have.”
Kuhl still has a bit to go with the pitches, as he has struggled at times to miss bats and the pitch counts have risen after struggling to put hitters away with the slider.
On the surface, Kuhl has stuff that looks like it projects into a strong number four starter, or a solid bullpen arm. He will have to continue to cultivate that slider and change-up to get to either role. Kuhl admitted that he has always been a starter and had not pitched in relief, so there could be an adjustment there if he does switch to the bullpen. But the stuff certainly plays well there.
It is hard to argue with the success that the right-hander has seen this season, and occasionally it gets overshadowed by the accolades of Taillon and Glasnow. Regardless, Kuhl has been just as strong in his own way and looks to carry that momentum into his next starts, as he no longer has to deal with restrictions.