PITTSBURGH -- Chad Kuhl stepped into the batter's box on Tuesday night with two out and the bases loaded in the fourth inning, expecting to see a fastball from Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd. Kuhl got a curveball instead. Far out in front of Boyd's 73.3-mph offering, Kuhl swung and missed -- badly.
"You can only imagine what's going on in the dugout," Kuhl said, grinning.
Kuhl took a moment to recover, stood in against Boyd and took another swing at the next pitch he saw -- another curveball. He made contact, knocking it over shortstop Andrew Romine and into shallow left field. Kuhl's fourth career hit drove in two runs and backed up his own effort on the mound in the Pirates' 6-3 win at PNC Park.
So, what was being said in the dugout after Kuhl's first swing?
"He was just baiting him. That's all he was doing," Andrew McCutchen said. "Baiting him away, and it worked out for him."
Added David Freese, the first runner driven in by Kuhl in a big league game: "Setting him up, right? Our pitchers, they give it their best shot. That ball fell in, and it was big for us. It was good to see."
Standing on first base after collecting his first career RBIs, Kuhl looked to the dugout to find catcher Chris Stewart, who has taken to the term "smart hitting" to describe his well-placed singles. Kuhl smiled and mimicked Stewart's signature gesture by pointing his left index finger to his temple.
"Stayed on it just a little bit better the second time," Kuhl said. "I knew it was in a decent spot. Hoping for the best."
The fact that Kuhl's hitting was a topic of postgame conversation was another indication of how far he's come on the mound.
"He's turned it around," Freese said. "He looks more like a bulldog out there, attacking the zone and confident in his stuff."
At the end of June, the second-year right-hander was 2-6 with a 5.58 ERA. Kuhl went 12 straight starts without recording an out in the sixth inning. Since then, he's posted a 2.94 ERA and completed six innings in five of his seven scheduled starts.
"Always confident out there. It's just nice getting those results, getting that positive feedback," Kuhl said. "Sticking with the process, as [Gerrit Cole] likes to say."
Kuhl limited the Tigers to two singles and a walk through five innings. He gave up three runs in the sixth, but he still finished his second straight quality start. Kuhl relied on a mix of two- and four-seam fastballs, mixed in a curveball that had recently been on the shelf, and kept Detroit's lineup off-balance with sliders and a handful of changeups.
"I thought it was a good mix off the mound from him. When there was some minimal traffic, he handled it," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was out there pitching, pitching and battling. He did a nice job for us."
As for the job he did at the plate?
"It just goes to show you a swinging bat's a dangerous bat," Hurdle said. "Quite a recovery after the first swing."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.