Chad Kuhl’s fiancee becomes his ‘caretaker’ during recovery from Tommy John surgery |

Chad Kuhl’s fiancee becomes his ‘caretaker’ during recovery from Tommy John surgery

Jerry DiPaola

After Chad Kuhl had Tommy John surgery, he knew life would change, at least temporarily.

He couldn’t lift weights. He couldn’t throw, of course. He could still hang out with teammates, but it was as a spectator.

But he didn’t count on this: He couldn’t even squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube.

Thankfully, there was Amanda.

She is Kuhl’s fiancée, but she’s more than that.

“She was my caretaker for about eight weeks (after Sept. 19 surgery),” he said Saturday at PiratesFest at PNC Park. “God, bless her. She was cutting my food for me. She was putting on my socks for me. Squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube for my toothbrush. She was the real MVP for all of this.”

She also commandeered the TV remote control and Netflix. “There isn’t an “SVU” episode or “Criminal Minds” episode that I didn’t see,” he said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t grab the remote, either, so it was what she wanted.”

But Kuhl, who will miss the entire 2019 season, will be grabbing something a bit more significant when training camp opens Feb. 13 in Bradenton, Fla. That’s when he’ll start throwing for the first time since the surgery.

“Every first day of spring training is exciting, but this will be really special, just to have that itch,” he said. “Just to throw really anything, throw a water bottle into the trash can, a football to throw. To be able to go back and begin this process of throwing a baseball again is super exciting.”

He hasn’t done that since June 26 in Citi Field against the New York Mets when he came out after four innings and knew something was terribly wrong with his right arm.

Initially, he went on the 10-day disabled list, then the 60-day and finally he was shut down in September, ending all hope of a 2018 comeback.

“I tried to go rehab it and do the thing I thought was right because I believed in my mind I didn’t need the surgery,” he said. “If I would have gotten the surgery June 26 or June 27, I’d have been like, ‘Do I really need that? It was only a 30 percent tear.’

“I’m glad I gave it every option and gave it my all. I had that clarity come September, — I needed (surgery).”

Kuhl began the season in the Pirates’ rotation, making 16 starts, compiling a 5-5 record, with a 4.55 ERA, 1.435 WHIP, and allowing 14 home runs in 85 innings. That was after making 31 starts and amassing 157 1/3 innings the year before.

“It was my understanding it was kind of an older tear,” he said. “I had been pitching a while with some kind of tear in my elbow. I knew I was pitching with 70 percent of an elbow, not a full one.

“Where I got into trouble was going into games and maybe trying to force the issue and got me out of those mechanics and good habits I had worked on. I was just doing too much and that’s what led to it.”

The next step will be combating the empty feeling this spring when his work will be limited while teammates are getting ready for the season.

“Not being able to do normal stuff, not being able to go and lift and do the things I normally do is the hardest part so far,” he said. “I’m sure when I get down to spring training and everyone is throwing and I have to sit and watch them. It will be little tough.”

Kuhl is one of several Pirates pitchers — past and present — who have had Tommy John surgery. They include Edgar Santana, who also had the surgery this off-season, Jameson Taillon, Clay Holmes and Nick Kingham.

Kuhl’s surgery involved taking a tendon from his left wrist — he didn’t have one in his right — and inserting it into his right elbow. Sounds bad, but it could have been worse.

“I was begging (surgeon) Dr. (David) Altchek, ‘Please take it from my wrist.’ I heard the hamstring is quite miserable. You’re in a wheelchair. That’s what (Taillon) had done. It’s a tough process.”

Taillon’s words helped, Kuhl said.

“I’d say the biggest thing I told him was, ‘Take your time in the rehab process,’ ” Taillon said. “I felt like maybe I attacked it a little too hard up front. I kind of burned out on the back end.

“I’ve seen guys get surgery and two days later be on the bike, sweating and saying, ‘I’m coming back stronger than before.’ But you’re going to burn out if you do that every single day. Take your time and just focus on yourself.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl throws during the third inning against the Padres Thursday, May 17, 2018, at PNC Park. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)