Pirates, Reds start series with only pride on line (Sep 15, 2017)

When the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds start a three-game series Friday night at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, the only things at stake will be the accomplishment of individual goals and contractual obligation.

The National League Central’s fourth and fifth place teams are playing out 15 games worth of the string. Pittsburgh (68-79) fell out of the division race last month and Cincinnati (63-84) cashed it in well before then.

But for the starting pitchers in the series opener, this game represents an opportunity to keep a roll going and get over a hump, in that order.

Pirates right-hander Chad Kuhl (7-10, 4.21 ERA) has looked suspiciously like a guy who has figured things out in the season’s second half. In his last 14 starts, he’s pitched to a 2.99 ERA, learning how to harness his 99-mph fastball while commanding his secondary pitches as well.

Kuhl followed up seven shutout innings Labor Day against the Chicago Cubs with six good innings Saturday night in St. Louis. He gave up only two hits and two runs, one earned, while walking five and whiffing six.

Kuhl was in line for the win until Pittsburgh’s bullpen coughed up runs in the seventh and eighth to lose the game, but his development has been a bright spot as the season winds down.

“This isn’t a done deal. This doesn’t happen in one year,” Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said to mlb.com of Kuhl’s progress. “As they go, they’ve got to absorb a little bit more, take those experiences they got there and use that to their advantage. He’s come so far.”

Kuhl would like to at least get to where his opponent, Homer Bailey (4-8, 7.26), has been. For that matter, so would Bailey.

The man who threw two no-hitters in his big-league career is still trying to figure out who he is after multiple arm surgeries cost him significant chunks of the last three years. Conquering the seventh inning is his next goal.

In a 6-1 defeat Saturday at the New York Mets, Bailey sailed into the seventh inning but hit a batter and walked another. That led to a three-run rally that ruined his day and puffed up a stat line that looked much better before the seventh.

He finished with six-plus innings, allowing five runs and six hits with three walks and five strikeouts. That came on the heels of a Labor Day start against Milwaukee that saw him begin the seventh with a 4-0 lead and leave with a no-decision after the Brewers tallied four runs.

“It hasn’t been working out there in the seventh,” Bailey said. “I’ve got to figure out a way to do it.”

Pittsburgh has been an ideal foil for Bailey in his career. He’s 9-6 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 career starts, including his first no-hitter Sept. 28, 2012. Bailey owns an 8-1 win against it this year, giving up just four hits and a run on Aug. 1.