WASHINGTON — Chad Kuhl will take the mound Sunday afternoon and will look to be a stopper, as the Pirates have lost two straight against the Washington Nationals to start the second half. It’ll be a tall order for Kuhl in more than one way.
His mound opponent is Max Scherzer, who has a 3.03 ERA and leads the National League with 164 strikeouts. Furthermore, Kuhl threw just 2.1 innings in his last start and had a hard time getting his sinker — his primary pitcher — to sink.
In Kuhl’s last bullpen session with catcher Eric Fryer, Fryer said they were working on Kuhl’s arm angle and keeping his delivery consistent.
“I think the big thing is making sure he’s keeping his glove side closed,” Fryer said. “A lot of times, sinkerballers, they start flying off, they can’t get the feel for out in front, and they can’t get the sink that it normally has. If he just keeps his direction towards home plate, everything should be OK.
“The big thing up here is to execute pitches, you have to be more and more consistent. That’s the separator between Triple-A and the big leagues, for the most part. I think his bullpen sessions the last couple times have gone really well. He’s getting a feel for that downward action on his two-seam fastball.”
Kuhl agreed that his side work has been more promising than his recent on-the-mound results.
“We did one here (in Washington) the first day back and it was really good,” he said. “I was just trying to get back my angle and working out getting that angle and back getting to ground balls. … I was really trying to control what happened and that kind of spiraled out of control. Once you release the pitch, you can’t do anything. I have to just control what I can control and I think we’ll be alright.”
Hurdle announced that Jameson Taillon will start the series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, followed by Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano.
That’s not to say that the rotation is set in stone, though. The Pirates will need to make a roster move to take Taillon off the 15-day disabled list. The options there include running the bench a player short, sending down or designating a reliever for assignment, or sending down Kuhl after his start.
If the Pirates do send down Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow would line up in the rotation to take Kuhl’s next spot on July 23. With the days off, the biggest factor guiding the Pirates is the desire to keep the established pitchers on something approaching regular rest, while filling in with the younger guys.
“[Cole, Liriano,] and we’re talking about potentially one more,” Hurdle said of the players that he’d like to keep in the rotation on a regular basis, without revealing who that third player could be. That was also the reason for bumping Locke’s start back a day (it was previously announced that he would start on Tuesday).
“I think it matches up as we look to keep Cole and Liriano on a consistent basis with the three off days,” Hurdle said. “It gives us an opportunity to be as consistent as we can be.”
With a pair of losses following the All-Star break, it’s now been seven days since Tony Watson pitched, and Hurdle said he would like to get him in the game Sunday.
“The games just haven’t rolled towards my way in the bullpen,” Watson said. “It is what it is. Hopefully, I’ll get in there [Sunday]. A couple of days off is never a bad thing over the course of the year.”
Watson said that as a player with a well-defined role in the back of the bullpen, his workload depending on the play of the team around him at times is just part of the territory.
“It’s just something you have to learn how to deal with and learn how to keep yourself sharp,” he said. “It’s just part of the role.”
‘JUST MESSING AROUND’
First baseman John Jaso took some grounders at third base yesterday, but he confirmed that it was nothing serious.
“I thought Clint’s job was just looking a little bit too easy, and I know that he’s sick of getting all the same questions from the reporters, so I figured I’d give him something new to talk about,” Jaso joked. “I was just messing around.”
Jaso added that he doesn’t even have an infielder’s glove. He was fielding with his first baseman’s mitt.
“Just something to break up the monotony of the everyday routine,” Jaso said.
Gregory Polanco was walking around the clubhouse with a large wrap on his injured left hamstring, the first time he’s done so since being injured. He is out of the lineup again today, as expected. … Adam Frazier will make his second start of the season at second base in place of Josh Harrison. He started eight games at second with Triple-A Indianapolis this year.
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) July 17, 2016