PITTSBURGH — Sometimes, less is more. That’s the big takeaway for Chad Kuhl over the last two starts, as he followed his worst performance of the season with a five-inning one-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies in what became a 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.
His last time out against the Washington Nationals, Kuhl reached back for 99.5 mph on one of his two-seam fastballs. It was an impressive moment. The rest of the start was not. Kuhl gave up six runs on ten hits in four innings against the Nationals.
In between starts, Kuhl did some soul searching, watched a lot of video, and found a version of himself that he thought would work a lot better. It turns out he was right. Kuhl kept the Phillies off-balance early with his hard-sinking two-seamer and retired the first eight hitters of the game. He didn’t give up a hit until there was one out in the fifth inning and also effectively mixed in his changeup and his slider.
The difference? Well Kuhl noticed something mechanically that he needed to get cleaned up first and foremost.
“Just saying over my back side and angling the baseball,” Kuhl said “It was much better than my last three games. It’s something that I worked my last couple times out in the bullpen. It kinda paid off today.”
It was a rewarding process for Kuhl to find something he thought he could improve upon on video and take that change into the game with success.
“It feels great to see it show up in the game and all the ground balls I got today,” Kuhl said. “It feels like I’m on track.”
But it wasn’t all mechanical adjustments. Kuhl said he had to get back to trusting the stuff that got him to the majors and not try to throw 100 mph past people.
“They guy that threw 99 against the Nationals, that’s not who I am,” Kuhl said. “The angle was getting away from me. That’s something that I really wanted to work on.”
Kuhl threw 34 two-seamers in his outing, with an average velocity of 95.4 mph. He threw 64 of them for strikes and they averaged a horizontal break of -8.38 inches and a vertical break of 7 inches. Last time out, his average velocity was actually lower — 94.4 mph — but Kuhl eliminated the overthrown pitches. His max velocity on Sunday was 96.9. Last outing, he had six pitches thrown harder than that. But there were three balls and three strikes and one of the strikes went for a hit.
Eliminating those overthrown two-seamers and focusing on consistently delivering the ball kept Kuhl around the strike zone — 57 of his 89 pitches were strikes — and also led to more success with his secondary pitches.
“It makes everything better when you have your fastball,” Kuhl said. “If you have your fastball, that’s something that they’re going to be hunting and then you have that slider and that changeup that you can do to off that.”
RAIN OR SHINE
The game was played in a steady rain. Kuhl said he doesn’t mind the conditions. If anything, he enjoys them a bit.
“I like the cold, too,” he said. “Whatever makes it worse for the hitter, I’m good with.”
While the conditions undoubtedly made it harder on the hitters of both sides — hence the 1-0 final score — it also made for tricky fielding. Felipe Rivero threw away a routine ground ball because it slipped out of his hand. Even Gift Ngoepe, who is probably the best defender on the team, struggled at times.
“You have to kind of attack the ball as best as you can, work through it and make a good throw to first base” he said.
Ngoepe also ran down two pop-ups way down the third-base line, showing off his range.
“My range allows me to do a lot of things,” Ngoepe said. “I take a lot of pride in my defense. I’ve really worked hard on it and it’s what got me to the big leagues.”