PITTSBURGH -- Chad Kuhl returned to Triple-A after his first stint in the big leagues for two reasons. First, there was no longer room in Pittsburgh's rotation for a fifth starter. Second, he wasn't getting enough ground balls, the foundation of his Minor League success. But Kuhl got key ground balls when he needed them Tuesday night, throwing six solid innings in the Pirates' 6-4 win over the Padres at PNC Park.
With the win, the Pirates pulled within 2 1/2 games of the Marlins for the second National League Wild Card spot, tied with the Mets and trailing the Cardinals by 1 1/2 games.
Kuhl, recalled to make his fifth big league start, took the mound with a chance to claim a starting job for good. He induced three double plays, including two that ended his last two innings, and held the Padres to two runs despite allowing five hits and four walks. A 36-minute rain delay threw a wrench in Kuhl's warm-up plans, and he battled through a 26-pitch, two-walk first inning. After that, it was mostly smooth sailing for the rookie right-hander.
"The two-seamer was working," Kuhl said. "Got more ground balls than I'd been getting. Definitely better. … When you get a couple hits, walk a couple guys, being able to get that two-ball is important, especially late in games."
After being limited by a nagging left shoulder injury over the weekend, Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco returned to the starting lineup and crushed a three-run homer to center field in the fifth inning. Francisco Cervelli doubled in a run to punctuate Pittsburgh's four-run fifth against San Diego starter Luis Perdomo.
Spotted a two-run lead before he took the mound, Perdomo continued to put the ball on the ground but allowed nine hits and three walks over five innings. After Pittsburgh scored six unanswered runs off Perdomo, Wil Myers pulled San Diego within three with a seventh-inning homer off reliever Antonio Bastardo, his 22nd of the season. It marked the Padres' 18th consecutive road game with a dinger -- the most in the Majors this year.
"I really like everything we're doing offensively," Myers said. "Obviously, we can improve every day, but I like what the young guys are doing."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Cleaning up: Batting cleanup for the first time in his Major League career, Polanco ripped two well-hit outs to center field in his first two at-bats. When he came up in the fifth with two men on and one out, Polanco crushed an 0-2 fastball from Perdomo deep into the center-field stands. Polanco's 16th homer of the season snapped a 2-2 tie and traveled 434 feet with an exit velocity of 105 mph as tracked by Statcast™.
"When you have two strikes, if you see whatever pitch is close to the plate, you have to swing at it," Polanco said. "He left it right there and I put a good swing." More >
Productive out, productive hit: Given a rare start at shortstop, Sean Rodriguez delivered two run-scoring swings in his first two at-bats. With the bases loaded and one out in the second, Rodriguez put the Pirates on the board with a groundout to shortstop. With a man on third and two outs in the fourth, Rodriguez tied the game with a single up the middle off Perdomo.
Blashtoff No. 2: Blash's second career homer served as further proof that consistent playing time can work wonders for a rookie. He struggled mightily early in the season, receiving only 29 plate appearances in the team's first 34 games. But Blash's second big league stint has been much different. After a 2-for-4 night, Blash is now reaching base at a .452 clip and has two homers since being called up to replace Matt Kemp.
"The power is going to play," said Padres manager Andy Green. "I don't think guys that hit 25 home runs in the Minor Leagues all of a sudden show up in the Major Leagues and can't hit the ball out of the ballpark. It's just a matter of time for him." More >
Stay grounded: Perdomo recorded 10 outs on the ground and just two in the air Tuesday, as he continues to use his sinker to great success. Among pitchers with 90-plus innings, no one in the NL has a higher ground-ball rate. But -- perhaps due to fatigue -- the pitch didn't have quite the same bite in the fifth, as Polanco (homer) and Cervelli (double off the top of the right-field wall) both drove the ball in the air.
"It was just a pitch that stayed up," Perdomo said of the homer. "I didn't execute [it] the way I wanted to. … I was able to get a lot of ground balls, although some of them got through. It's just part of the game."
"When you see him in [the clubhouse] tonight, he really looks like a pirate. It's a tough look." --Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on John Jaso, scraped up but otherwise uninjured during a play at the plate
"He was going to steal the base, and he didn't feel he had a good enough jump. So he came up with a plan B." --Hurdle, on Josh Harrison's swim-move slide into second base
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Padres started six rookies on Wednesday -- the second consecutive time they've done so in a Perdomo start. They're the only team in baseball this season to field a starting nine with six rookies. Until this year, the franchise hadn't done so since its inaugural season in 1969 (which featured eight rookies in the lineup at one point).
The Pirates are 5-0 in Kuhl's first five big league starts, although Kuhl has only earned the win in two of them.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Padres second baseman Ryan Schimpf fielded a Jaso grounder in the second and threw to shortstop Jose Rondon to force out David Freese. Trying to turn a double play, Rondon fielded Schimpf's throw but never touched the bag. Freese was ruled out, and the Pirates challenged the call. After a 55-second review, the call was overturned and Freese was ruled safe to put two runners on with one out. Rondon was charged with an error.
After a leadoff infield single in the fifth, Harrison got caught in no-man's-land when he slipped between first and second base. Harrison got up and scrambled to second. He was initially called out, but the Pirates challenged and a replay review showed that Harrison managed to evade Schimpf's tag with a well-timed swim move. The call was overturned, and Harrison was ruled safe.
"A lot of times, you can deke them by throwing that hand in real quick and pulling it back," Harrison said. "It's a matter of trying to do anything you can. I got lucky."
In the eighth, the Pirates had a third challenge go their way -- this one initiated by their opponents. The Padres challenged a close play at second base, believing Harrison had been doubled off after a line drive. But replays confirmed that Harrison's hand had beaten Rondon's foot to the bag.
WHAT'S NEXT Padres: The series continues Wednesday with Edwin Jackson set to make his fifth start for the Padres at 4:05 p.m. PT. He's been quality in three of his first four, including eight very strong innings against the Reds last Thursday. Jackson allowed only three late runs (once the game was well out of reach), and he became one of just two Padres hurlers to complete eight frames this year.
Pirates: Veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong will make his first home start since May 23, when he was struck in the face by a 92-mph fastball and sustained multiple facial fractures. Vogelsong returned to the rotation on Thursday and delivered a strong six-inning start. He'll take the mound again at 7:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday at PNC Park.