Does Chad Kuhl have a future in Pittsburgh after surgery?

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chad Kuhl underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, all but assuring he won’t be pitching next season.

With his 2019 season in jeopardy, you have to wonder if Kuhl has any future left with the Pirates at all.

The 26-year old Kuhl hasn’t pitched since June 26 and has racked up a 4.55 ERA, 1.435 WHIP, 81 strikeouts and 33 walks in 85 innings through 16 starts this season.

On the surface there wasn’t much improvement from the 2017 campaign in which Kuhl went 8-11, with a 4.35 ERA and 1.468 WHIP in 31 starts.

But Kuhl made some improvements during the season and for a span he was the Pirates best starter.

The month of May Kuhl posted a 3.44 ERA and seemed to get into a groove. Long known as a guy that could only go five innings, Kuhl went six or more in eight out of 10 starts from late April until mid-June.

From May 6 through June 15, Kuhl had a 2.89 ERA in 46.2 innings over eight starts.

That’s right about the time he started going heavier on his curveball and we started to see better and more consistent results.

With Kuhl on the shelf, what does it mean for the Pirates going forward?

Starting pitching depth

With the way Trevor Williams has been pitching, Kuhl likely had very little chance of making the Pirates to begin next season as it stands now.

The only way Kuhl opened 2019 in the rotation was if Ivan Nova would be dealt in the offseason.

Kuhl’s injury makes that unlikely.

While the rotation looks set with Jameson Taillon, Williams, Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove and Nova, Neal Huntington’s offseason plan may now have to include adding starting pitching depth.

Nick Kingham is still waiting in the wings and Mitch Keller still needs time in Triple-A so for next season the Bucs may be thin on starting pitching depth.

Kuhl likely would have assumed a role in the bullpen that Tyler Glasnow filled before he was dealt.

Kingham will likely assume that role next year because he’s out of minor league options.

If the need ever came up and Kingham wasn’t stretched out enough to start, Clay Holmes would likely be the guy as the roster stands now.

Expect Huntington to look for a starter/long man that he can plug into the rotation in an emergency.

They still have Steven Brault, but the more pitching depth the better.

Does Kuhl have a role when he returns?

Many have always felt that with his power arm and lack of command that Kuhl was better suited as a reliever.

If he finds his way back with the Pirates, that’s the logical spot for him.

I can’t see Kuhl beating out any of the starters for a job when he returns and by that time Keller and others will be beating down the door.

However you can always use arms like Kuhl’s and assuming he comes back healthy, I’m sure the Pirates will find a spot for him somewhere in the bullpen after he comes back.

He’s under team control until 2023 so if Kuhl makes it back, he can still make an impact for the Bucs.

This recent surgery is a major bump in the road for Kuhl that may ultimately see him switch roles from starter to reliever.

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