Reds Rockies Baseball

Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chad Kuhl (41) in the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 30, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Chad Kuhl needed to kill some time. 

It was 2018, and Kuhl, then a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was in Denver for a three-game series. He was injured — battling a nagging elbow injury that would soon require Tommy John surgery — and didn't need to be at the ballpark until early evening. He didn't want to sit in the team hotel all day twiddling his thumbs, so he hopped on a scooter and gave himself a tour of the city. 

He went from the team hotel in downtown to Denver to Capital Hill, over to the Broncos' stadium and through Larimer Square. He circled back around, ending his adventure at Coors Field, the place he now calls his home.

It was over four miles of scootering. "I can even prove it," he said, pulling up the receipt on his phone. 

Something about this city felt right to him. It was a place he could see himself, and his future family, thriving. And now, four years later and with a baby boy in tow, he's doing just that.

The Rockies signed Kuhl to a one-year deal at $3 million in March — a bargain price for a quality starter. Kuhl, after being non-tendered by the Pirates, was on the hunt for a team that wanted him to be part of its rotation after spending the second half of last season in the bullpen.

When the Rockies called, he thought back to that August day four years ago. Not only were the Rockies offering him a starter role, but he would get to do it in a city he already knew he loved. 

"I just like being here. Either then the long ride to the airport, I can't think of any negatives," Kuhl said, referring to the 30-plus minutes it takes to get from Coors Field to Denver International Airport. 

So far, he's more than earned his spot. His 1.82 ERA is the best on the team, and by far his best in his career through the first five starts of a season. He's doing it with a breaking pitch that is sharp for the first time in years, and a sinker that finally works for him.

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"This is the best I've felt," Kuhl said. "I've had good stretches where I feel good, but this spring was the first time where I was like 'oh wow, I feel good about the way I pitched.'"

For most of his career, Kuhl thought he had to throw high and hard to have success in the major leagues. But in his first meeting with the Rockies after he signed, manager Bud Black told him that, because he doesn't have a high spin rate on his fastball, he thought his stuff would actually play better if he kept it down. Kuhl still elevates it from time to time, but it's a weapon now when he does that, as hitters aren't expecting it. 

The Rockies had him change his mechanics too — moving his hands closer to his body as he's preparing for his windup and having him break around his sternum. He was able to throw harder when he kept his hands lower, but he also wasn't getting the ball over the plate consistently. 

"We were really adamant about the fastball and where it needed to be," manager Bud Black said. "We challenged him."

The biggest improvement, though, has been his breaking ball, a pitch that, when executed, can play extremely well at Coors Field. It's been his most-used pitch — he's throwing it 39.2 percent of the time. Opponents have a .050 batting average against it, and he's getting 35.2 percent of his strikeouts with it. 

The changes have been evident from day one of the season, and his teammates, those who have known him for just two months and those like Elias Díaz, who caught him in Pittsburgh for three years, have noticed. They've only lost one game that Kuhl has played in — his most recent start, when he gave up only one earned run in six innings but the road offense didn't provide any support. 

"He's in control more," Díaz said. "He's been good. His confidence is back. He's been competing, executing his pitches more."