BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates are approaching the portion of spring training in which it’s time to worry less about mechanics and more about competing.
Fortunately for Chad Kuhl, that rising level of urgency lined up with a bounce-back outing. After allowing eight runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings last Saturday against the Orioles, Kuhl did well enough against the Twins on Saturday at LECOM Park to be personally satisfied.
Not that he had his best fastball command, getting hit hard on several occasions over the course of 4 1/3 innings, but he used his secondary offerings — slider, curveball, changeup — well enough to pass the ‘pitchability’ test.
“That’s the way to be,” said Kuhl’s catcher on this day, Francisco Cervelli. “Every day’s not going to be the same. Some guys, they don’t have it until the end (of the outing). They have to keep working until they have it. This guy has power. He’s young. He’s going to be amazing.”
We’ll see about that, but Kuhl’s third start of the spring was certainly a step up from his second. Kuhl revealed that he came down with the same stomach virus that forced Tyler Glasnow to take a few days off from pitching.
“I felt pretty awful going into that one,” Kuhl said. “It was nice to be back to myself. No excuses, but it was a tough day (last Saturday). Worked through some stuff.”
Kuhl’s off-speed pitch of choice last year was his curveball, but he and Cervelli looked for opportunities Saturday to use the changeup that Clint Hurdle said could be “another weapon” if hitters have to respect it, even if it might never rise to the level of his other pitches.
“I threw some really good ones,” Kuhl said. “Felt good with where I was at with it. Now it’s at the point where the consistency is there. Just building it to where I can throw it anytime, anywhere.”
Other areas of emphasis were rhythm on the mound and signs with runners on base, so this clearly wasn’t an air-it-all-out day for Kuhl against a Twins lineup that featured Miguel Sanó, Robbie Grossman, Chris Heisey and not much else. Kuhl called it a “mix” day, splitting the difference between development and competition.
“The overall effort was focused,” Hurdle said.
• A Pirates lineup comprised of bench players — save Cervelli — bashed Twins starter Phil Hughes for nine runs (five earned) in the opening 3 1/3 innings of a 13-5 rout.
Three of the eight hits off Hughes went for extra bases, including no-doubt home runs by Cervelli, his second of the spring, and Jordan Luplow, his third.
“I don’t really get too excited with the homers (in the spring),” Cervelli cracked. “I’d rather save them for the season.”
Cervelli has homered in back-to-back games and said he feels his swing and approach coming together as he’s collected eight hits in his past 13 at-bats.
• The theme of power rolled over to the day’s starting shortstop, Sean Rodríguez, who popped a misplaced Jake Reed pitch over the bleacher pavilion in left field for his team-high fourth.
Persistent contact problems aside, Rodríguez’s pop has always been prodigious, although he said he doesn’t take it for granted after last year’s severe shoulder injury, suffered in an off-season car accident in his native Miami.
“My body feels awesome,” he said. “That’s the biggest key. You run into a ball any time of year, you want to know if you get it, you can still drive it. You hope you catch it and it goes, because if it doesn’t, you worry.”
• Rodríguez asserted that he considers himself the backup center fielder, although Adam Frazier has also received some reps at the position this spring.
Hurdle wouldn’t go as far to declare Rodríguez as Starling Marté’s understudy, but the manager was adamant that Gregory Polanco “isn’t going anywhere” besides right field after the left field experiments of the past two years.
“Let us be the ones who are uncomfortable, carrying a bunch of gloves,” Rodríguez said, referring to himself and Frazier. “You settle in and let us float.”
• After Tyler Eppler’s assignment to minor-league camp Saturday morning, the camp roster is down to 47 players — 23 pitchers, five catchers, 12 infielders and seven outfielders. With a split-squad doubleheader coming Sunday (home vs. Red Sox, road vs. Blue Jays) there doesn’t figure to be another round of cuts until at least Monday.
For the starting assignment against Boston at LECOM Park, the Pirates will send Glasnow to the mound for the first time in 11 days. He allowed seven runs (six earned) against Toronto on March 7.
Also, top organizational pitching prospect Mitch Keller is scheduled to drive crosstown from minor league camp to make his Grapefruit League debut, in relief. Dovydas Neverauskas and Kyle Crick will join Keller in the bullpen.