Kuhl makes most of chance to stick in rotation

Pirates rookie has been part of club's pitching turnaround

Kuhl makes most of chance to stick in rotation

LOS ANGELES -- When the Pirates reconfigured their rotation earlier this month, they decided to make Chad Kuhl a part of it. After months of running rookies in and out of the starting staff, Pittsburgh gave Kuhl a chance to stick -- and he's making the most of it.

Kuhl put together another quality start in the Pirates' 11-3 win Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, holding a lineup loaded with dangerous lefties to two runs on six hits and striking out five over six innings. 

It was Kuhl's sixth start in the Majors and Pittsburgh's sixth win behind him.

"I'm staying true to what I do best," Kuhl said. "I'm not going to strike out 13. I'm going to try to get the ball on the ground and give quality starts."

Kuhl has done both in his second callup. Known for getting grounders in the Minor Leagues, Kuhl saw too many balls in the air during his first stint with the Pirates. So he went back to Triple-A Indianapolis and worked on his mechanics, looking for more vertical sink and less horizontal run on his pitches.

Kuhl found it Sunday, getting eight ground balls. How did he do it, especially when he was struggling to get ahead in the count with his fastball? Kuhl leaned on his slider and especially his changeup.

"The changeup was the pitch today," catcher Francisco Cervelli said.

"It's critical -- and to be able to command your slider to both sides of the plate," added manager Clint Hurdle. "You've got to have those things to pitch in the big leagues."

Kuhl also has the attitude for it. Even without his best stuff during his first four starts, Kuhl pitched well enough to keep the Pirates in the game. Spotted a five-run lead Sunday, Kuhl stuck to his game plan.

"He's got that cool demeanor, but at the same time fiery. 'I'm competitive, but I'm not scared,'" Sean Rodriguez said. "That's essentially what it takes to play up here."

The Pirates have taken two turns through their rotation since bumping out Jeff Locke, bringing back Ryan Vogelsong and calling up Kuhl. A weakness for nearly four months, Pittsburgh's starting staff has emerged as a strength.

In those 10 starts, Pirates starters put together a 2.83 ERA with a 3.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio. They averaged six innings per start, struck out 46 and walked 12. The rookies, Jameson Taillon and Kuhl, have been as dependable as anyone.

Taillon is here to stay. The way he's pitching, Kuhl could be as well.

"I can't play GM. I just pitch when I'm given the ball," Kuhl said. "Going out there and having that confidence is everything. It's awesome.

"You block that kind of stuff out. At the end of the day, you've got [Chase] Utley and Adrian Gonzalez, they're trying to hit doubles off you. You're not worried about that. You're worried about the guys 60 feet away from you that are trying to crush the ball."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.