PITTSBURGH — Chad Kuhl has struggled getting consistent sink on his fastball for most of the 2017 season. He’s had several starts where everything seemed to work well, like his last outing — a five-inning one-hitter. There have been other nights, like his start May 16 against the Washington Nationals, when he just couldn’t get the ball to sink. He gave up six runs in four innings in that one.

In other game, he’s done some things well but had trouble getting left-handers out, like on May 10 with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ lefty-heavy lineup jumped on him in the first inning.

In an 8-1 loss to the New York Mets Friday, Kuhl gave up five runs on eight hits in 4.1 innings. It wasn’t his shortest outing of the year or the most runs he’s allowed, but from a stuff standpoint, it might represent something of a worst-case scenario.

Kuhl again had trouble with the sink and arm angle on his two-seam fastball. He recorded just two ground outs compared to nine air outs and that’s not the way it should work for the sinker-heavy pitcher.

“That was a big part of the story that was told tonight,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We weren’t able to establish angle and sink. Fastball didn’t have the normal sink or life to it. Velocity showed up, but it wasn’t velocity that was usable.”

Kuhl said it was “just one of those nights” when it comes to the fastball.

“It just felt like there wasn’t any life to the ball,” he added. “Hard but no life to it really.”

But in some ways, it was even worse than his fastball just not working right. The Mets stacked eight left-handed hitters in the lineup against Kuhl. It was tantamount to a dare for the second-year pitcher to respond — a “show us you can make us pay” kind of move. Kuhl wasn’t able to do that.

The eight lefties — including opposing starter Jacob deGrom — went 8 for 20 (.400) against him, and Neil Walker hit two home runs, the second of which knocked Kuhl out of the game in the fifth inning. Lefties were hitting .333 on the season against Kuhl coming into the game, and if he’s not able to come up with a solution, teams are going to continue to stack every southpaw bat available against him.

“Obviously, it’s a little bit of a pushback from the league,” Kuhl said. “I’ve just got to keep getting better and stay ahead of that.”

The fastball is part of that solution, clearly. Kuhl said after his start against the Phillies that when it’s on, all his other pitches work better. But especially against lefties, Kuhl needs all of his three-pitch arsenal to be working.

“A lot of pitches were elevated, and his off-speed stuff never really became a component, a weapon,” Hurdle said. “He didn’t have the weapons tonight to go against an all-left-handed lineup.”

Kuhl was tight-lipped about his off-speed pitches, just saying they were “inconsistent tonight and (the Mets) hit some good pitches.”
Catcher Francisco Cervelli was more enlightening.

“The changeup, it wasn’t there too much. But especially (tonight), we needed to pound the inside corner.”

That didn’t work out so well. Kuhl threw just five changeups against lefties and none were near the inside corner. One was taken for a ball, one swinging strike, a triple and the other two went for 95-plus mph line outs. The slider was slightly better, with a 25 percent whiff rate and 85 percent going for strikes, but he wasn’t able to use it as a put-away pitch, getting just two strikeouts.

Cervelli was also quick to point out that Kuhl suffered his share of bad luck. Before the first run, he induced a weak ground ball to shortstop, but Jordy Mercer was shifted up the middle and couldn’t get to it. Kuhl would have gotten out of the second inning unscathed, but he and Cervelli got crossed up on a strikeout of Jose Reyes, who reached on a wild pitch and scored on Walker’s two-run home run.

But simply put, Kuhl hasn’t shown that he’s able to get left-handers out with any regularity without all of his three pitches working, especially the change-up. After 10 starts, his ERA is 6.29. His FIP is 4.16 and his xFIP is 4.97, so his outcomes have been slightly worse than his underlying numbers would suggest.

Kuhl sits right in between Trevor Williams (5.93 ERA) and Tyler Glasnow (6.69 ERA) when it comes to the back-end of the staff right now and it seems that Jameson Taillon isn’t all that far from making a return, meaning a decision point may be nearing, meaning Kuhl may not have all that much longer to figure it out.

NOTES

Gregory Polanco was 2 for 4 with a home run in his return from the disabled list. Josh Harrison also had two hits. Andrew McCutchen went 1 for 4 hitting No. 6 for the first time in his career. … Johnny Barbato gave up three runs over two innings and was hurt by three walks. Hurdle said he’s probably been overworked, pitching in three of the last four games. … Daniel Hudson pitched a perfect two innings on just 19 pitches. … Cervelli was removed from the game in the ninth inning because he wasn’t feeling well.

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36 COMMENTS

  1. I suspect ultimately Keith law will be validated on kuhl. As of now he’s a 2 pitch pitcher and profiles as a reliever.

    Some may say glasnow is 2 pitch pitcher but I disagree. While the results on glasnows changeup have not been good it shows swing and miss qualities. Kuhls changeup has no swing and miss along with very poor results.

  2. This thread is about Kuhl, but the article had a sentence about Mercer not getting to a ball. It looks like Mercer’s range is now two steps in either direction from a statue. He doesn’t help his pitcher at all. And his bat isn’t there this year. I say play NGoepe at SS and see what he has got.

  3. I’ve long held that he belongs in the pen. The next Jared Hughes?

    Of course, who do we have at AAA to replace him? The soft tossing Brault or Hutch?

    Gonna be a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng year.

    • I feel that Brault is better than Kuhl at this moment. Kuhl should go to the minors and work on his Change Up, Sinker consistency, and Slider in that order. This is not something he needs to do in the majors like Glasnow – and we certainly don’t need two or three pitchers simultaneously trying to figure things out.

      • I would guess that most sinkerballer pitchers with no secondary pitches have the same problem. It is a very effective pitch against RHB’s, but as equally ineffective against LHB’s.

    • And then Bastardo for Niese. The gift that keeps on giving.

      Funny thing is Mets fans aren’t happy either because they think they got Walker for Murphy.

          • Yeah, but Neil might profile better at 3rd. I didn’t like his range at 2nd the last year in the Burgh.

            • Maybe. I really don’t have a problem with them trading Walker away. They do miss his power. I just never thought Niece was a good return for him and history bore that out. I Kang we’re still on the team, I don’t think they would’ve missed Walker much at all.

    • Or go to the bullpen. He can reach 99 in short spurts. If he can learn to locate better he could be an effective reliever.

  4. And, another game where the offense gave little if any support. Last night, May 26 in their 49th game, the Pirates reached the 20th game this season where they have scored 2 runs or less. Last year the 20 mark was not hit until Jun 11 in our 62nd game. Kuhl was ineffective also.

    • As a whole this team is a painful bunch to watch most nights. As you pointed out, there’s not a huge chance of winning if you can only muster a 60% chance of scoring more than 2 runs. It takes very good pitching to overcome that.
      Most of Kuhl’s starts have been forgetable. Possibly some BP time or a trip to AAA might help him. At any rate, he currently appears to have the least positive outcome of any of 3 SPs whose ERAs hover around 6.

    • You hit the nail on the head. It’s almost as if this team is missing their three best hitters due to drugs, alcohol, and incompetence.

      • We lost two to alcohol and drugs but the rest of the team, for the most part, are seasoned veterans. Our youngsters like Bell, Polanco, and Frazier are the guys holding this team together.

        I guess the incompetence would be ‘Cutch, who is 15 for 90 in May .167, and 19 K’s. Have you looked at Freese lately? 6 for 39, .154 with 17 K’s in May. Jaso has been on fire lately to get his May all the way up to .232, 13 for 56 with 12 K’s.

        • Once Pirates decide Meadows is ready, I think Freese is odd man out most days. Meadows, Polanco, and Cutch in OF. Bell, Frazier, Mercer, and Harrison around the horn.

    • They didn’t lose because they couldn’t score. They lost because they gave up eight runs. Yes, it sucks that they can’t score but they are going to win if their staff continues to suck.

  5. I had such high hopes for him coming into the season. It turns out he is our 2017 version of Jeff Locke 🙁

    • He is looking much worse than Jeff Locke. Nh needs to use his option or move him to pen for the time being

    • By the numbers and by the eye test, he is much worse than Jeff Locke ever was. By the way, numbers wise Glassnow is worse than Jeff Locke was too. I think the “depth” and “strength” of the pitching staff is just as questionable as any other part of the team. Right now there is Cole and Nova but otherwise collectively they suck.

      • Kuhl’s problem with lefty hitters sounds similar to the problem that Charlie Morton had. Teams started putting several lefties in the starting lineup and they had success against him. When a team finds a weakness with a player they will capitalize on it.

        • Locke was a solid contributor as a number 5 starter for three years and then fell apart in 2016.
          None of the three (Kuhl, Glasnow, or Williams) are as good as he was yet with only Glasnow showing the potential to be much better.

        • Locke also made the All-Star team his first year as a regular starter. Kuhl and Glassnow don’t look at to be all stars anytime soon. Or are you seeing something I’m not?

          I do think Glassnow has potential to be much better than Locke ever was. But Kuhl? I don’t know why management and fans seem to think he could be even decent as a starter. Last year he looked like he was pitching batting practice half the time. But, management decided he was a number four starter without any competition whatsoever out to spring training. What they see in him is beyond me.

          I’m tired of hearing about how great their young rotation is. By the numbers, they are not good. By the eye test, most of them are awful. And if the staff is in fact so damn good, why can’t Searage seem to help any of them get better?

          Like I said, right now they suck. That’s the rotation, the bullpen, the entire pitching staff.

          • I think for whatever reason has been overhyped to a degree. He’s not close to a starting caliber pitcher at this point in time. He doesn’t have a swing and miss stuff nor does he have elite command. However, the biggest problem I see is that he just has failed to ever really generate a ton of groundballs. In August last year he generated 51% groundballs but most months he has been in the 30’s. Just not very impressive.

      • Glasnow at least is showing improvement and has a much higher ceiling.

        Rotation of Cole, Nova, Taillon, and Glasnow can compete with anybody in my opinion.

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