PITTSBURGH (AP) — The first RBIs of Chad Kuhl's major league career came at the end of a sequence that mirrored the Pittsburgh Pirates' yo-yo season: one ugly moment quickly followed by something considerably more effective.
Stepping into the box with the bases loaded against Detroit's Matthew Boyd in the fourth inning on Tuesday night with a chance to break things open, Kuhl sat on a fastball only to get a curveball instead. Kuhl lunged at the pitch comically, missing so badly he could practically hear his teammates cackling in the dugout.
So Kuhl took a breath, reset his feet, dug in again and connected. Kuhl's flare into left field was just over the outstretched arms of Detroit shortstop Andrew Romine to help propel the surging Pirates to a 6-3 victory.
"He was just baiting (Boyd)," Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen said. "That's all he was doing."
Kuhl (5-7) looked considerably more comfortable on the mound, taking a shutout into the sixth to improve to 4-1 since June 20. He struck out six and walked just one and his ERA - which sat at 6.69 after getting drilled by Washington on May 16 - dropped to 4.53.
"There are times (this season) it felt like it's misfiring a little bit," said Kuhl, who went more than two months between victories earlier in the year. "But I just stuck with the process and the changes I made."
McCutchen took Boyd to the seats in center field leading off the fourth for his 23rd home run of the season and franchise-record 13th interleague homer. David Freese added two hits and an RBI for the Pirates, who have five won of six to pull within a game of .500 (56-57). Felipe Rivero worked a perfect ninth for his 10th save.
"You're going to have ups and downs," Kuhl said. "Young starting rotation, we're all going to fight and try and get better. We're in the situation that we're in but we're not going to stop fighting."
Jim Adduci hit an RBI double for the Tigers and Mikie Mahtook had two of Detroit's five hits. Boyd lasted just four-plus innings, losing for the first time since his recall from Triple-A Toledo at the All-Star break. Detroit has lost four straight games, its fifth skid of at least four games this season.
"I would have liked to finish the road trip with a W but we got to head into the home stand and get back to playing quality ball," Tigers catcher James McCann said.
It didn't happen in Pittsburgh as Detroit managed just six hits in 18 innings against a team that remains in striking distance in the NL Central thanks to steady improvement from the back end of the rotation. A night after Trevor Williams gave up one hit in seven innings, Kuhl appeared ready to match him.
His fastball reaching 99 mph, Kuhl overpowered the Tigers for the first five innings, surrendering only two singles to Mahtook and a walk. Though Kuhl faltered in the sixth, by then he was working with a six-run lead, with two of the runs coming after the career .054 hitter (3 for 54) atoned for his inelegant miss.
"Just goes to show you a swinging bat is a dangerous bat," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Quite a recovery after the first one."
Boyd, unbeaten since returning from a five-week stay at Triple-A following a bumpy two months in the rotation, left following Freese's RBI single three batters into the fifth. Boyd struck out five and issued one walk, his ERA rising to 5.64.
Adducci's double in the sixth was also Detroit's last hit of the night. Three Pirate relievers retired the Tigers in order over the last three innings. Rivero, who blew a save on Sunday in an eventual 12-inning victory over San Diego, needed just 12 pitches to breeze through the ninth as Pittsburgh moved to an NL-best 64-47 against the American League since 2012.
Tigers: RHP Michael Fulmer (right elbow inflammation) will meet with team doctors on Wednesday to have the elbow re-examined. Manager Brad Ausmus said the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, who was put on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 1, hasn't had any setbacks and that Fulmer feels "fine."
Tigers: Justin Verlander (7-7, 4.20 ERA), coming on the 40th double-digit strikeout game of his career, gets the start on Wednesday as the interleague series shifts to Detroit.
Pirates: Ivan Nova (10-8, 3.66), winless in his last three starts, starts for the Pirates as they look to get back to .500.
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