Chad Kuhl's gem wasted in Pirates' 2-1 loss to Giants
Searching for an impressive outing to tighten his grip on a rotation spot, Chad Kuhl delivered Saturday against the San Francisco Giants.
Kuhl was nearly perfect through five innings, holding the Giants hitless on a tidy 60 pitches. He finally cracked in the sixth, but even that damage — Austin Slater's solo homer — was minor.
"Just trying to attack," said Kuhl, who tossed six full innings for the first time since April 18. "Just getting back to what I do best, trying to get guys (to hit it) on the ground and (have) good fastball command — in, out, being able to go in to lefties."
Yet, even when gifted with Kuhl's gem and an underwhelming effort by Giants starter Matt Moore, the Pirates came up flat and lost, 2-1, in 11 innings.
"We left 15 (runners) on base. We put them out there just about every inning," manager Clint Hurdle said. "At the end of the day, it's all about scoring runs, and we weren't able to do that."
Kuhl could have notched just his third win if the Pirates did more against Moore, who went into the game with a 6.04 ERA, third-worst among big-league starters. Forty-nine of the 109 hits he had allowed went for extra bases, third-most in the majors. He had an 8.39 ERA in road games.
The Pirates made Moore look bulletproof. The right-hander gave up one run in 52⁄3 innings, despite allowing four hits and a career-high six walks.
Five San Francisco relievers combined for four more walks. It was just the third time since 1913 the Giants walked 10 batters and held their opponent to either one or zero runs.
Kuhl has yet to notch back-to-back victories. He pitched five or fewer innings in each of his previous 12 starts, sometimes because of pitch inefficiency and sometimes to a lack of run support.
With Triple-A all-stars Steven Brault and Drew Hutchison applying pressure from Indianapolis, Kuhl needs to prove he belongs in the Pirates' rotation. Yet, Hurdle stopped short of saying Saturday's game was make or break.
"Every start is important," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We don't try to create the drama here. We just try to coach, play and take care of things internally. He knows what the situation is. He wants to pitch deeper into games, and he put himself in position to do that today. A really good outing."
Kuhl went six innings and allowed one run on two hits, walked one and struck out three. He retired 15 of the first 16 batters he faced, the exception being a leadoff walk to Ryder Jones in the third inning.
That five-inning hitless run was nearly derailed before it got started. Denard Span led off the game with a comebacker that smacked off Kuhl's left wrist. Kuhl stayed down for a few anxious moments, was checked by an athletic trainer and stayed in the game.
"You don't ever want to be taken out, especially on the first hitter of the game," Kuhl said. "You do your best to fight through it and keep going."
In the third, the Pirates took a 1-0 lead when Andrew McCutchen doubled and scored on Josh Bell's two-out single. It was the 10th consecutive plate appearance in which McCutchen reached base, a streak that began Thursday.
Piggy Ward reached base an MLB-record 17 consecutive times — eight hits, eight walks and one hit by pitch — June 16-19, 1983. During his streak, Ward was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Cincinnati Reds.
McCutchen's run ended when he struck out in his next at-bat.
Kuhl's bid for a no-hitter was snapped in the sixth when Slater drove a first-pitch slider over the center-field wall.
The Pirates missed a chance to win in the ninth. With two outs, Hunter Strickland issued consecutive walks to McCutchen, David Freese and Bell. Elias Diaz took an inside curveball — Statcast indicated it was out of the strike zone — for a called third strike.
"It was definitely a ball inside," Diaz said. "But, like they say, that's baseball."
Diaz went 0 for 5 and stranded nine runners on base.
With one out in the 11th, Span walked and hustled to second base on Diaz's passed ball.
"I tried to stick it and I missed," Diaz said.
Span went to third on Joe Panik's flare single. Panik was jammed by a 97 mph four-seamer, but fought it off and lobbed it down the left field line.
Daniel Hudson caught Hunter Pence looking at a slider for the second out. With first base open and a full count on Buster Posey, Hudson bounced a slider in the dirt. The ball went to the backstop and Span scored.
"If I was going to get beat, I was going to get beat on my best pitch," Hudson said. "Against right-handers, that's my slider. I got a little too much bite on it."
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.