BRADENTON, Fla. — The easiest way to describe Chad Kuhl as a pitcher is a sinkerballer. As a rookie in 2016, he leaned heavily on that primary offering in order to pound the strike zone and induce weak contact from opposing hitters.
But now, there’s a scouting report. Kuhl’s reputation is pretty well known around the league and he’s working to increase his repertoire this spring in order to keep opposing hitters off-balance.
“If you get a report on Chad Kuhl, they’re going to say, ‘Get the ball up. He’s going to sink the ball,’” explained manager Clint Hurdle. “He’s trying to just work on some counter-punching techniques. It’s all part of the education.”
To that end, Kuhl has been working on throwing his four-seam fastball more and throwing his changeup to both left- and right-handed hitters.
“It’s been a majority four-seam dominant spring for me,” Kuhl said. “Getting that right and having that two-seamer come along with it. It’s something that I’m really comfortable with. Getting the four-seamer nailed down has been a priority for me.”
The four-seam fastball provides a different look for hitters that will be sitting on a high pitch, expecting it to drift back down into the strike zone. A high fastball that stays high can be a swing-and-miss pitch and also induce pop-ups. Even if it’s taken for a ball, it will keep hitters from sitting on the sinker.
“I like him having the ability to do it,” Hurdle said. “His strength is his two-seamer. I do believe you’ll still see him go to those sequences when he’s going to sink the ball. He’s trying to elevate the ball with more purpose than he ever has before. He’s throwing up, maintaining plane and getting outs hand-high.”
Kuhl also threw a lot of changeups to right-handers, which isn’t a look that he’s used a lot of in the past. But his bread and butter will remain the two-seamer, and with only a couple starts left in Spring Training, he needs to get it in order. Tuesday against the Rays, it didn’t start out with as much sink as he’d like and some pitches up in the zone got hit hard. But he got it to settle in and improve as the game went on. Hurdle liked that Kuhl had to do some battling without his best stuff through the first few innings of his appearance. That’s something that will happen once the regular season begins, and it’s important for a pitcher to have the feel required to fix what’s going wrong on the mound early on.
“I thought the downhill angle got better as the day went on. The fourth and fifth innings were the innings I thought he actually made pitches,” Hurdle said. “It’s fun to watch him compete when things just aren’t coming easy.”
“I think it was coming out well, I just wasn’t really getting on top of it,” Kuhl said. “The pitches were working. They had life. I just struggled early on getting it down and having that angle. I battled through and then [innings] four and five were a lot better.”
FRAZIER FINDING STRIDE ON BASEPATHS
Adam Frazier attempted to steal a lot of bases in 2016. But he wasn’t particularly successful. His hope is that armed with a lot of knowledge of what didn’t work, that will be an area of improvement in 2017, and he showed off some of that potential Tuesday, going 2 for 2 on stolen bases. He also stretched a single into a double earlier in the game and came around to score the winning run in the ninth inning from second base, narrowly missing a tag at home plate with an athletic play. It was a glimpse of what’s possible for Frazier on the bases.
“I didn’t get that great of a jump, but the pitch sequence worked out for me,” Frazier said of his ninth inning stolen base. “He threw a curveball. He was quick to first, but slower to the plate, so that gave me a chance.”
Much of Spring Training is about getting players individually ready for the season, but with the days winding down, things like situational baseball are starting to become more important. Frazier putting himself into scoring position and then coming around to win the game could be a huge play in a couple weeks.
“That’s a big situation,” Frazier said. “This is a great time to work on stolen bases. I haven’t had too many opportunities to do it yet this spring. That was a great opportunity. … Last year, I ran a lot, but didn’t steal as many as I would like. I think that was all part of the process.”
JASO AT THIRD?
John Jaso started at third base, but somehow didn’t have a single ball hit to him. Hurdle said that he’ll get another opportunity at the hot corner to show what he can do over there, and said if need be, they will do extra work on the back fields to get a feel for the way he’s able to handle the defensive switch.
“I can’t remember the last game that a third baseman had no plays in nine innings,” Hurdle said. “We’ll give him another shot. He could have had 12 plays, he had none. What are you going to do? We’ll get him back out there. I still like the action in the batter’s box. He’s looking real strong out there.”
But Jaso, who has taken grounders at third base in batting practice before, said there’s no substitute for live reps and he’s excited to get back out there and try again.
“The only way to do it is to take off the training wheels and push the person out there,” he said.
Jaso doesn’t think that he’d be considered a starting option at third base, but being able to take the field there in order to facilitate another switch could help the team.
“This is the National League, a lot of weird things happen as far as switches go,” he said. “I’d like to give the manager that in his pocket, just in case he needs to do something crazy.”