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Kuhl and Frazier Help the Pirates to a Win Over Kershaw and the Dodgers

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PITTSBURGH — Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw has lost two games this season. His newest victim? Twenty-three-year-old Pirates’ rookie Chad Kuhl, who did just enough for the Pirates to beat the Dodgers, 4-3 Sunday night.

With a national television audience watching and 32,228 on hand at PNC Park, Kuhl out-dueled Kershaw for five innings, giving up just four hits while striking out five. It doesn’t get any bigger of a stage than that for an MLB debut, and Kuhl stepped right up.

“It was something really special,” Kuhl said. “I have a lot of respect for that guy. To go up against him, that’s something you dream of.”

Kuhl faced adversity from the get-go, getting into a bases-loaded jam in the first inning before getting Yasiel Puig to hit a routine grounder. That’s what Kuhl is all about, being able to force ground balls and maintaining his composure.

“The first inning, I was a little shaky,” he said. “I really tried to ease my way into it and not be overly excited or anything like that. I did my best. … I think that was huge for the game and getting some confidence, being able to escape some trouble and get back to what I do best — putting the ball on the ground. I think it set the tone for the rest of the outing.”

Outside of two extra-base hits by Justin Turner, Kuhl limited hard contact and scattered hits. He also had five strikeouts, which was a bit unexpected for a pitch-to-contact guy.

“I think it was just staying on the attack with the fastball,” he said. “I got into a couple of really good counts. I fell behind a decent amount, but when I was ahead, I stayed ahead and stayed attacking with the fastball. I had a few really good sliders. That combo really worked.”

Catcher Chris Stewart agreed that Kuhl’s early execution with his fastball set everything else up.

“He wasn’t intimidated at all,” Stewart said. “He came right after them and was aggressive. He wasn’t pinpoint accurate, but his aggressiveness got them on their toes. … Outstanding job going after guys and getting outs.”

Not only did Stewart and Kuhl team up as battery mates, they connected on what was possibly the team’s most important defensive play of the game. With Turner representing the tying run on third, a Kuhl two-seamer broke the wrong direction, deflected off Stewart’s glove and headed to the limestone backstop.

“‘Oh no,’ that was my initial though,” Stewart recalled. “After that it’s, ‘Well, you have to go get it and make a play.’”

Stewart did make a play, collecting the ball of the wall and firing it back to Kuhl, who dove to tag Turner just before he reached the plate.

“That’s Stewart’s play,” Kuhl said. “It was unbelievable to get back there and he put the ball right on my chest. That’s Stew’s play completely. That was incredible.”

Kuhl leapt in the air with a fist pump, celebrating the moment.

“That’s one of the beautiful things about sport,” Hurdle said. “You can’t write that story before the game. You wouldn’t have that in there anywhere and it plays itself out on the national stage.”

FRAZIER FILLS IN

Jordy Mercer extended his hitting streak to 11 games before exiting after the first inning with head and right ear discomfort. Mercer slid into second base, and took a knee to the side of the head from Chase Utley, who was making a leaping throw to first.

“They seem to feel that he’s come out of it pretty well,” Hurdle said. “He was a little foggy out there. We’ll know more tomorrow.”

With Mercer out of the game early, Hurdle turned to super-sub Adam Frazier, who came in and played right field, with Sean Rodriguez moving to shortstop. Frazier went 2 for 3, with both hits coming against Kershaw.

“You see Jordy getting hit in the head there and you hope it isn’t serious,” Frazier said. “I knew there was probably an opportunity for me to come in, in the next half inning, so I just tried to get loose real quick.”

He looked plenty loose when he roped an RBI single to left that scored the first Pirates run of the game and set the table for David Freese’s bases-clearing, three-run double.

“He’s a sandlot rat and I mean that in a very loving way,” Hurdle said. “The kid plays. We saw it in Spring Training and everyone that’s had him in the minor leagues has seen it. He jumps up and goes to work. Talk about a jump-start, getting thrown in that game at that point in time.”

HOT STAR

In the eighth inning, Frazier moved from right to left field as more defensive changes were necessary in the wake of Andrew McCutchen’s first career ejection. McCutchen was called out on strikes in the fifth inning and then was a victim of back-to-back strike calls by home plate umpire Chris Conroy that both appeared to miss the strike zone.

McCutchen demonstrably thew his bat down on the ground, causing an immediate ejection from Conroy.

“I felt like I got taken advantage of that last at-bat,” McCutchen said. “The bat was taken out of my hands. It’s one thing to let things slide, but honestly, I’ve let things slide my whole career. I don’t want to feel like I’m being stepped over. I don’t want to feel like I’m being taken advantage of. Honestly, it felt like I had to take matters into my own hands and speak my piece.”

NOTES

• The bullpen pitched four innings of perfect relief with two strikeouts, as Juan Nicasio, A.J. Schugel, and Mark Melancon did not allow anyone to reach base after Turner was thrown out at the plate.

Hurdle mentioned that the plan was for Nicasio and Schugel to handle three combined innings, and the decision not to double-switch Nicasio into the game shifted the heavier load to Schugel when the pitcher’s spot came up in the bottom of the sixth inning.

• Kershaw continues to pay rent to Chris Stewart, who is now hitting .529/.556/.765 against Kershaw in 18 plate appearances after recording a single and a double in three trips to the plate.

• Sean Rodriguez, batting in front of the pitcher, drew his first intentional walk since 2012 to force the aforementioned pinch-hitting situation in the bottom of the sixth. He worked an old-fashioned walk against Kershaw, who gives up the fewest in the league.

• Francisco Liriano will face Scott Kazmir in the series finale Monday afternoon at 12:35 p.m.

Ed Giles contributed to this story.

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