December 7, 2022

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Kuhl and Díaz reunion proving beneficial for Rockies

3 min read
Right-hander and catcher, who played together with Pirates, click in win over Phillies

DENVER – For all the puns his last name generates, Rockies right-hander Chad Kuhl isn’t always.

“It’s just coming from my inner drive,” he said. “I know I can get fired up, but I’m trying to do a better job.”

Rockies catcher Elias Díaz knows this, as well. They worked together earlier in their careers with the Pirates, and Díaz lit up when the Rockies went to him for background before signing Kuhl to a one-year, $3 million deal this spring.

With Kuhl’s drive and Díaz’s ability to set a path to the strike zone, the reunion was fruitful Monday night. In his Coors Field debut, Kuhl held the Phillies to two hits in six innings of the Rockies’ 4-1 victory.

“He’s fun for me to catch,” said Díaz, who stole an out for Kuhl with a back-pick at first base to end the fourth inning. “This was one of the best games I caught with him. When we were with the Pirates, he had some pretty good games, too.

“He’s going to be good.”

It all takes Kuhl back to Pittsburgh, when the two bonded after reaching the big leagues.

“He’s so level-headed, and he’s always got a smile on his face but you know he’s locked in,” Kuhl said. “It was always a good relationship.”

The pair arrived in Denver at different places in their careers, but they had the same goal — to complete their education and graduate to a new level.

In Pittsburgh, Díaz, 31, debuted in 2016 and waited behind Francisco Cervelli until 2019, but after 101 appearances (96 behind the plate) the Pirates non-tendered him. The Rockies signed Díaz, but he spent much of 2020 at the alternate training site working on his receiving. His playing time came in the final month, then last season he played well enough offensively and defensively to earn a three-year, $14.5 million contract,

Kuhl, 29, debuted with 14 starts in 2016 and, except for missing 2019 because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, was part of the rotation until late last season. But after missing time last year with COVID-19, Kuhl finished the year in the bullpen, where the Pirates wanted to keep him. Kuhl was not warm to the idea, and the club non-tendered him.

Kuhl came to the Rockies believing trimming walks would lead him to success, and Rockies manager Bud Black and the pitching coaches presented him with ideas. Black, pitching coach Darryl Scott and bullpen coach Reid Cornelius presented Kuhl with a theme.

“The thing that I’ve talked to him most about is, with his stuff, stay on the attack and stay in the strike zone or just right off,” said Black, whose Rockies are 7-3. “When you have big misses as a pitcher, a lot of times it’s harder to get back in the strike zone. If he can get to the point where his delivery and release point finish is near and around the plate, he’s going to stay near and around the plate.”

Black noted that there was little difference between Monday and Kuhl’s first outing, when he held the Rangers to one run and two hits, but was limited to 4 1/3 innings because four walks drove up his pitch count.

“A lot of that is staying in my lane and driving the ball down,” said Kuhl, who might have gone another inning, but left with tightness in his right hip that radiated to his hamstring. “When I’m really good, I’m more on top of the ball.”

And his intensity was in check, so it was an asset.

The most emotion he showed was for a key play by Díaz — when the catcher picked Rhys Hoskins off first base to end the fourth, with Kyle Schwarber batting. Earlier in the inning, Kuhl had struck out Bryce Harper on a high fastball, so Díaz knew that pitch was working. Díaz also knew Hoskins was straying far from the bag, hoping for a slider in the dirt, so he called the fastball and snapped a throw to first.

“That was the most fired up I got all night,” said Kuhl, who said the leg issue should not affect his next start.

“Tonight was good,” Díaz said. “The intensity was good. He relaxed, executed a pitch and got results.”

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