Chad Kuhl Has A Big Opportunity Tonight

Jun 24, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chad Kuhl (39) delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 24, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chad Kuhl (39) delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Chad Kuhl will make his third career Major League start against the Chicago Cubs tonight. In this start, he will have a huge opportunity to show the Pirate organization he belongs in the Major Leagues.

On June 26th the Pittsburgh Pirates called up right-handed pitcher Chad Kuhl from Triple-A Indianapolis. After posting a Minor League ERA below three over the course of less than three full professional seasons, the 2013 ninth round pick had made the Major Leagues. By reaching the Major Leagues Chad Kuhl became the second member of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2013 draft class to make the Major Leagues, joining Adam Frazier who debuted just two days earlier.

Through his first two Major League starts Chad Kuhl has pitched well. He has shown a good fastball with hard sink, and a plus slider. Most importantly, the Pirates are 2-0 in Chad Kuhl’s two starts.

Chad Kuhl has pitched 11 innings in his two starts, and has allowed five earned runs. He has a 1.36 WHIP, has allowed just one home run, and has a 4.18 FIP. While Chad Kuhl has not been dominant by any stretch of the imagination he has pitched like a strong number four starting pitched. Which is exactly what Kuhl always projected as coming up through the Minor Leagues.

Of the 15 base runners Chad Kuhl has allowed through his first 11 Major League innings, three of them came in his first inning. In the first inning of his Major League debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers Chad Kuhl walked two batters and allowed a single. Since then, he has a 1.20 WHIP and is averaging just 1.80 BB/9.

My one big complaint with Chad Kuhl through two starts is the lack of groundballs. Chad Kuhl currently has a 31.4 percent groundball rate, which is too low for any pitcher. In the Minor Leagues Kuhl was a groundball machine and I am hopeful that this will translate to the Major Leagues.

Now, obviously, 11 innings is a very small sample size. Honestly, it is probably too small of a sample size to really draw any conclusions from. So, I expect Kuhl’s groundball rate to improve with more starts and more innings. Especially if he continues to throw his hard, sinking fastball with the success he has in his first two starts.

As for tonight, it is a big start for Kuhl for a lot of reasons. First off, he will have the opportunity to pitch the Pirates to a series victory over their rival Chicago Cubs. With a win tonight, the Pittsburgh Pirates will clinch their first series victory of the season over the Chicago Cubs and they would pull to six and a half games out of first place.

Secondly, Chad Kuhl can put the Pirate organization into a position where they have to make a tough decision after tonight. Both Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are slated to rejoin the active roster when the Pirates play the Washington Nationals after the All-Star Break. To make room for them on the roster the Pirates will have to make a pair of roster moves.

One of the moves is a no brainer, in fact the Pirates have already announced what it will be, Josh Bell will be returned to Triple-A Indianapolis. The second move, however, is not as clear. The Pirates will have options of what they can do, but my guess is they are leaning toward optioning Chad Kuhl back to Triple-A as well.

Next: The Pirate Bullpen Has Become A Strength Again

Things could change between now and Friday. For one, it has been reported extensively that the Pirates are currently shopping left-handed starter Jon Niese. Even though this is not known, my guess as to why the Pirates are trying so vigorously to trade Jon Niese is to make room in the rotation for their young starters such as Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow.

If the Pirates are able to trade Jon Niese before Friday, then I would imagine that is the other roster move that is made to active Cole and Taillon. If not, I believe Chad Kuhl will be optioned to Triple-A. If Kuhl has a strong start tonight though, then optioning him to Triple-A becomes a lot more difficult to do. Especially with how poorly both Jon Niese and Jeff Locke have pitched this season.

Saturday night is a very important start for Chad Kuhl. I am willing to bet that as of now the Pirates’ plans are for Chad Kuhl and Josh Bell to return to Triple-A Indianapolis after the All-Star Break to open roster spots for the returning Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. However, if Chad Kuhl can put together a strong start on Saturday night he may pitch his way into remaining in the starting rotation.