Play it Kuhl: Pirates glad they retained righty

Second-year starter competing for rotation spot after club turned down trade requests

Play it Kuhl: Pirates glad they retained righty

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates rarely, if ever, talk publicly about trades they didn't make. General manager Neal Huntington has made something of an exception regarding Chad Kuhl.

Last year, Huntington mentioned that Pittsburgh turned down numerous trade requests for Kuhl. Three weeks ago, Huntington reiterated the Bucs could have parted with Kuhl in a number of situations -- "some big, some small," he said -- but refused to do so.

The Pirates believed Kuhl would be an effective Major League pitcher. Did he?

"I always say, 'You never know until you know,'" Kuhl said. "They can tell you you're ready for that step. It's hard to get ready for that. You have to see it. You have to see yourself have success."

Kuhl's success as a rookie last season gives him the inside track to a rotation spot this year. The Pirates have stopped short of guaranteeing Kuhl one of the two available jobs behind Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova, but he is certainly the leading candidate heading into Spring Training.

Kuhl's impressive outing

"We think a lot about Chad, the experience he garnered through that season," manager Clint Hurdle said earlier this offseason. "He will probably be a really well-thought-of guy going into Spring Training based on what he was able to accomplish."

Kuhl has spent the offseason working out and training at the University of Delaware. He'll report to Spring Training in two weeks with more experience and knowledge but the same mindset as ever.

He knows what he has to do to be successful, and facing Major League competition reinforced that in his mind: throw strikes, keep his sinker down in the zone and force opposing hitters to put the ball on the ground.

"What worked well for me last year is what I'm going to try to repeat again this year," he said. "I'm going to try to go out there, know what works for me and approach Spring Training the same way."

The 24-year-old right-hander went 5-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 14 starts last year. When accounting for opponents and ballparks, Kuhl's 100 ERA+ was exactly league average. He made eight quality starts and allowed more than three earned runs only twice.

It took Kuhl most of the offseason to process everything that happened last year, he said. But he quickly learned that he belonged in the Majors.

Kuhl earns win in MLB debut

His MLB debut came on June 26 against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, the former National League MVP and three-time Cy Young Award winner, in a nationally televised Sunday night game. Kuhl allowed three runs in five innings and the Pirates beat the Dodgers, 4-3. Pittsburgh went on to win each of Kuhl's first six starts.

"Getting a win in my first game, being able to realize and say, 'I fit in here. I can pitch here,'" Kuhl said. "That's the biggest takeaway we all got, that we can go up there and compete and do well."

Seeing the former ninth-round Draft pick, never a heralded prospect, hold down a spot in the rotation may have caught some outsiders by surprise. Not the Pirates, though. They've held on to Kuhl for a reason.

"He really didn't surprise us internally," Huntington said. "We've liked him for a long time."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.