Chad Kuhl, Starling Marte help Pirates defeat Cardinals, snap 6-game skid
Chad Kuhl and Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk were locked in a pitcher-hitter duel that lasted some two hours.
Sure, a 1-hour, 56-minute rain delay interrupted the second-inning at-bat. But Kuhl reemerged when the skyline cleared, and Grichuk struck out looking on a 98-mph first-pitch fastball that showed the right-hander was still sharp despite the long delay.
Cardinals starter Michael Wacha wasn't, but Kuhl was able to finish five innings and allowed just one run in Saturday's 6-4 victory over the Cardinals at PNC Park. The Pirates snapped a six-game losing streak, and Kuhl's workload boosted a bullpen that was short on long-relief arms.
"I had all the confidence in the world that I would be back out there," said Kuhl (6-8), who allowed three hits, one walk and struck out six. "It never really was a question in my mind (with) our bullpen not being so rested. I was 100 percent no matter how long it took. I was ready."
While waiting out the rain delay, Kuhl threw twice in the indoor cage "to keep blood flow and keep some adrenaline going," manager Clint Hurdle said.
"Chad was willing to pitch if he had to wait 'til tomorrow with the position we were in," he said.
Wacha (9-6) also returned after the delay, but six of the first seven Pirates reached base, including two-run homers from Adam Frazier and Starling Marte. The Cardinals right-hander, who allowed five runs in the second, was pulled after four innings and 81 pitches. Wacha allowed seven of the Pirates' 12 hits.
Marte went 3 for 5 with a run and two RBIs for his fourth multihit game in a row. The outfielder is 11 for 22 with six runs scored during that span.
"It's him catching up to speed," Hurdle said. "I saw it start a few days ago. I mentioned to a couple of the guys in the clubhouse, just in his walk and his demeanor at the plate."
The home run was Marte's first since April 15.
"I believe Clint is correct. I've adapted a little bit and was able to capture the velocity of the game again," Marte said via a translator. "I'm watching pitches a lot better ... and able to read the pitchers a lot better. I feel a lot more confident now."
Frazier went 3 for 4 with a run and two RBIs.
In the sixth, pinch hitter Jose Osuna drove a leadoff home run into the left-field seats to push the Pirates' lead to 6-1. The homer was his first as a pinch hitter.
Kuhl's five innings were crucial after starter Trevor Williams lasted just three innings in Friday's loss, forcing the Pirates to promote Dovydas Neverauskas from Triple-A Indianapolis to boost the bullpen. Kuhl had earned just four outs when the rain came.
"It was just a very, very gritty performance by him to do the things he was able to do," said Hurdle, who noted Kuhl had nine three-ball counts but walked just one.
Kuhl's return made the task far more managable for the bullpen. Neverauskas pitched a scoreless sixth, and George Kontos held the Cardinals scoreless in the seventh. Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong hit a two-run homer off Juan Nicasio in the eighth.
Felipe Rivero allowed a leadoff homer to Jose Martinez in the ninth but then retired the next three in order for his 13th save.
If Kuhl hadn't returned, "it could have been interesting," Hurdle said.
The six-game losing streak tied the team's longest this season. The four-game series shifts to Williamsport for the finale Sunday. The Pirates and Cardinals will play at Bowman Field in the Little League Classic.
After the rain delay, Wacha walked leadoff batter Josh Bell on six pitches before allowing Frazier's two-run blast to right center. Sean Rodriguez and John Jaso singled, and Rodriguez scored on a double-play grounder by Elias Diaz. But with two outs and the pitcher at the plate, Wacha couldn't escape the inning. Kuhl doubled to left, and Marte homered to right center for a 5-1 lead. Wacha threw 35 pitches in the second.
The Cardinals' first run came just before the rain delay. An RBI single by Kolton Wong scored Martinez, who doubled to right one batter earlier in the second.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.