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Chad Kuhl struggles but double plays and Braves miscues lead to Pirates win

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Chad Kuhl relies on his sinker to be effective; and, his sinker requires precise mechanics. When he’s had tough outings in the past, the explanation has been the same: He overthrew, he was too amped up, which caused his two-seamer to lose its sink and start to spray. That was the story again tonight, as Kuhl allowed 13 runners to reach base (one on an error) over five innings pitched. However, three fortuitously timed double plays saved his pitching line, kept the Pirates in the game and were the difference in the Pirates 6-4 victory.

"He rolled his sleeves up and competed, but we need to fine tune some things and get some sink involved and get some more consistency," Hurdle said. "He’s going to run hot. But we got to find a place where we’re repeating our delivery and getting on top of the ball to get sink."

Kuhl’s sinker flew up-and-out of the strike zone most of the evening. After the second inning he leaned on the slider more often and showed decent command of the pitch. Working in the slider seemed to throw Braves hitters off balance just enough to induce some awkward swings on misfired sinkers in key spots.

For the night, the Pirates right-hander allowed five hits and three runs (two earned) over five innings pitched. He walked six (two intentionally) and struck out five.

"Early on, I felt a little out of control," Kuhl said. "But I did enough to get outs. [After the second] I worked on quieting down mechanically and tried not over think it."

The momentum of the game turned on three double plays turned by the Pirates’ middle infield in the first five innings.

In the first, Dansby Swanson hit a one-out double and Freedie Freeman followed with a walk. Adonis Garcia then lined out to Adam Frazier who forced Swanson at second. In the third, Frazier again started a double play, which  relieved pressure and eventually limited the Braves to one run in the inning. Finally, in the fifth, the Pirates’ second baseman started his third double play that ended the inning.

"The double plays were as big as anything we did all night," Clint Hurdle said. "There was a lot of traffic to pitch through."

Offensively, the Pirates had little problem handling R.A. Dickey. They collected nine hits, four walks and six runs off the knuckle-baller. The Braves defense was about sloppy as you’re going to see from a major league team, as they committed two errors and Kurt Suzuki allowed three passed balls. The Braves miscues accounted for three unearned runs.

Gregory Polanco led the Pirates offense, going 4-for-4, scoring twice and adding an RBI. Afterwards, Hurdle said that his decision to solidify Polanco in the clean-up spot is mostly a "gut" decision.

"He looks big and he has a physical presence," Hurdle said. "If you look at the guys that have hit fourth for the Pirates in the past – whether it was [Willie] Stargell or [David] Parker – playing on some history a little bit. And then you look at the mindset, and I like the young man’s stills. I believe he is a run producer."

For the second game in a row, the Pirates benefited from playing against an inferior opponent. The Braves played a horrendous game defensively, and piled up some head scratching swings when they had Kuhl on ropes. With the win the Pirates move to .500 and the table is set to complete the sweep Sunday afternoon.