Following this evening’s high-scoring first game, where the Pirates went through five pitchers, game two starter Chad Kuhl provided some relief by providing six solid innings.
The righty allowed three earned runs and struck out eight batters, which ties his career high. After not making it out of the sixth inning in any of his first three starts, Kuhl has finished the sixth in each of his last two appearances.
Pittsburgh’s starter got swings and misses on all of his pitches, but when he lost the feel of his curveball in the middle innings, it was the slider that bailed him out.
“Behind in the count, ahead in the count, the slider was the weapon for me tonight,” Kuhl said.
Of course, Kuhl did not make it through his start without a few bumps in the road. Fine defensive positioning perhaps saved a big inning in the fourth, as JaCoby Jones lined into a 4-6 double play after the Tigers strung three hits together to start the frame.
The Tigers cut the Pirates lead to 4-3 in the fifth after Leonis Martin, who led off the previous game with a home run, hit a two-run homer over the Clemente Wall in right field.
But Kuhl buckled down and sat down four Tigers to earn his third win of the young season. And it was a win that the Pirates, who entered the game having lost five in a row and seven of their last eight, desperately needed.
“It’s all you could want as a starting pitcher,” Kuhl said. “You want that reputation and you want to be a winner. I’m just going to go out there and do what I can do to have a quality start and give the team a chance to win.”
26th man comes up big
Jose Osuna wasn’t even supposed to be here today.
Called up from Indianapolis to be the team’s 26th man for today’s doubleheader, Osuna started his first game of the 2018 season and came through with an early three-run homer to give the Pirates a lead in the second inning.
Initiated in 2012, the 26th man rule allows teams to temporarily promote a member of their 40-man roster to the big leagues for the second game of a doubleheader.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was pleased with his decision to give Osuna the call to the big leagues.
“I think we leveraged the 26th man about as good as we could have,” Hurdle said.
Osuna spent nearly the entire year in Pittsburgh last season, playing in 104 games with the Pirates, but has spent the beginning of this year in Triple-A acclimating himself to third base. He had only played right field once this season in Indianapolis before starting in that position at PNC Park on Wednesday night.
While the 25-year old slugger has a fair amount of major league at-bats under his belt, Osuna said that slugging a home run in his first at-bat of the 2018 season was special.
“I just tried to make good contact and I hit the ball really well,” Osuna said. “When I hit the ball, I just said ‘Okay, it’s gone.’”
Osuna would also single and score on pitcher Buck Farmer’s throwing error in the seventh inning.
On Wednesday, Osuna played an integral part in an important Pirates win. But, as is often the case with emergency call-ups, tomorrow he will likely be on his way back to Indianapolis.
“I am prepared,” Osuna said. “They told me yesterday that I would maybe be here for one day. That happens, it’s part of the game. I just have to play hard and work to come back here [permanently].”
Bucs bats show up
After only scoring five runs in four games against the Philadelphia Phillies this past weekend, the Bucs tallied 18 runs on 29 hits during Wednesday evening’s doubleheader.
According to Hurdle, Wednesday represented a welcome return to the hitting approach that made the Pirates one of the best offenses in baseball for the first couple weeks of the season.
“We’re steadfast, we’re stubborn, we’re hunting pitches,” Hurdle said. “It was a pack mentality and there was some progress today.”
At least on Wednesday, several Pirates looked more like their early-April selves than the listless team that has occupied the diamond recently.
Starling Marte, who earlier swung at a pitch that bounced five feet in front of home plate, drew his 13th walk of the season. The Pirates center fielder walked just 20 times in 77 games last year.
“There have been times this year when he’s chased 2-0 or 3-1, but there have been some counts now where he’s shown a different side of him that we haven’t seen before,” Hurdle said. “We’re starting to see more of that side now.”
Francisco Cervelli, who sat out in the second game, continued to pick up two-out RBIs.
Colin Moran hit his second homer of the season in the first game and followed that performance up with a pinch-hit, RBI single in the eighth inning of game two.
Corey Dickerson continued to lace line drives, collecting three hits and an intentional walk in six plate appearances on Wednesday.
Obviously, if the Pirates are going to be competitive this year, they will have to hit more like they did in the opening weeks of the season than they did during their losing streak.