Pirates notebook: Chad Kuhl’s increased velocity, curveball intrigues management
Chad Kuhl is not the same pitcher he was a year ago.
During his debut season with the Pirates, Kuhl had a fastball that averaged 90-93 mph, and he used his two-seamer to induce ground balls. Now, Kuhl is touching 99 mph with his four-seamer and has added a devastating new pitch to his arsenal.
“In his last two starts, he’s taken to the curveball like nobody I’ve seen in 43 years in the game,” manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday.
This evolution — call it Kuhl 2.0 — has been dramatic and significant. It’s also rare, according to Hurdle. Management is intrigued by the potential it has created, which is why it was Tyler Glasnow and not Kuhl 2.0 who was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room in the rotation for Jameson Taillon.
“That guy who’s gone out there the last few times with the velocity that’s real? I think we just need to let that guy go pitch,” Hurdle said. “He likes pitching with emotion. He likes pitching with that fastball. I believe he can have some success with it. To throw that curveball on the same plane as the fastball, elevated atop the strike zone, it can be a lethal weapon.”
Taillon will come off the disabled list Monday to start against the Colorado Rockies. Kuhl’s turn in the rotation was pushed back to Wednesday.
Even with the two extra days, Kuhl won’t prepare any differently for his next outing. On Sunday, he lifted then threw a bullpen session.
“That’s exactly what I’d do on a normal day,” Kuhl said.
Hurdle said the coaches are trying to help Kuhl “simplify” things for his starts going forward.
“We’re encouraging him to go out and pitch with his heartbeat,” Hurdle said. “Don’t try to think about trying to be the guy you were last year. What you’re feeling now, go use it to your advantage.
“He’s shown the ability to maintain the velocity for 90 pitches. The two-seamer, he’s still got it. Is it going to be 90 mph anymore? I don’t know. The changeup might be his ground-ball pitch. The four-seam fastball is real, and it’s live. He can go up and in, down and away. There is some angle there.”
Santana’s fast start
When he found out late Friday that he was called up, reliever Edgar Santana’s first phone call was to his mother.
“I called her four times until she finally woke up,” Santana said with smile.
Santana arrived at PNC Park during batting practice Saturday. A couple of hours later, he was on the mound making his big league debut against the Miami Marlins.
“I was like, ‘I can’t believe this,’ ” Santana said.
Hurdle, who made his rookie debut in 1977 with the Kansas City Royals, said Santana’s rapid deployment in a game was part of the plan.
“I came up with maybe five guys, and I was the last guy to play,” Hurdle said. “So, I know what it’s like to wait and watch other people play. You’re human. It’s not like you’d like to play in front of people. You’d just like to get involved in the action. Sometimes, that anxiety and anxiousness can build, so I don’t try to create it. I try to be aware of an opportunity sooner than later to get him involved.”
The first batter Santana faced was Ichiro Suzuki, who is bound for the Hall of Fame. Santana retired him on a grounder.
“It was an honor to face that kind of hitter,” Santana said. “Before my first pitch, I was kind of scared. After the first pitch, I said to myself, ‘Oh, I’ve got this.’ ”
Polanco needs more barrel
Despite a .326 career average against the Marlins, Gregory Polanco went 1 for 13 in the series. Over the past few days, hIs average batted-ball exit velocity hovered around the mid-80s mph.
“We’re not getting barrel. It’s either off the end (of the bat) or closer to the label,” Hurdle said. “That’s the reason for the exit velocity. He’s just off the barrel. It’s not like there is some huge disconnect.”
Hurdle noted Polanco squared up balls in each of his last at-bats in the games Friday and Saturday.
“The other balls are hit where they need to be hit, they’re just not on the barrel,” Hurdle said. “The swing has a little bit of length in it. We’re trying to identify the too-long part of it so he can be more crisp to the ball.”
Polanco, who was icing a sore shoulder after games last week in Baltimore, did not play Sunday against the Marlins.
Double-A Altoona second baseman Kevin Kramer was placed on the disabled list with a fractured right hand after being struck by a pitch Saturday.
“No surgery is necessary,” farm director Larry Broadway said via email. “Broken bones typically take four to six weeks to heal, then he will have to build up to baseball activities.”
A second-round pick in 2015, Kramer hit .297 with an .880 OPS in 53 games this season.
Kramer’s injury came a week after High-A Bradenton shortstop Cole Tucker broke his thumb during batting practice.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.