Thrust into desperate situation, Kuhl emerges with first save

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When it came to deciding who he would entrust to record the final outs required to defeat the Royals in a wild ballgame Friday night, Davey Martinez didn’t really have the chance to consider a multitude of options.

Kyle Finnegan wasn’t available after pitching each of the previous two nights. Same for Hunter Harvey. Andres Machado needed a night off after throwing 27 pitches Thursday. Thaddeus Ward also pitched in that game, and the rookie Rule 5 draft pick has yet to appear on back-to-back days this season. Mason Thompson, who threw 12 pitches Thursday, might have been available if absolutely necessary, but Martinez preferred to stay away from him as well.

So that left … who exactly in the Nationals bullpen?

Erasmo Ramirez had already entered in the seventh after Patrick Corbin loaded the bases and proceeded to allow Kansas City to score five runs without recording an out.

Carl Edwards Jr. had to pitch out of the seventh-inning mess Ramirez created, then return to at least start the eighth.

Which left one man standing in the bullpen, the man who would have to close this one out, the least likely option of them all: Chad Kuhl.

That Kuhl, he of the 9.41 ERA in five starts before going on the injured list with a foot issue and then returning last week as a long reliever, found himself finishing the bottom of the eighth and then returning for the bottom of the ninth in a save situation was remarkable on its own merits.

That Kuhl proceeded to record all five outs needed to secure the Nats’ 12-10 victory and emerge with the first save of his career bordered on ludicrous.

“Chad Kuhl, what can I say?” a simultaneously thrilled and exasperated Martinez said afterward. “He comes in and shuts the door for us and gets his first save ever. That was awesome.”

Kuhl had made 17 big league relief appearances in a career that dates back to 2016, but none bore any resemblance to this. If anything, the only real comparable experiences the 30-year-old could think of were a couple of late-inning outings with the Pirates in September 2021 and the one and only complete game of his career last June for the Rockies.

What did those handful of ninth-inning appearances teach Kuhl?

“You just know that each pitch matters a little bit more,” he said. “You need to focus in. … But it comes down to the same old thing: Just executing pitches.”

Kuhl’s outing Friday night didn’t get off to a great start. Thrust into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth and the heart of the Royals lineup coming to the plate, he immediately surrendered an RBI single to Salvador Perez on his very first pitch.

That set the stage for a huge encounter with Bobby Witt Jr., who had homered off Corbin in the sixth and then Ramirez in the seventh. Kuhl, though, induced a groundball out of Witt, and though another run scored from third on the play, the Nationals happily exchanged that for the out they recorded.

“You just have to execute, especially when a guy is hot like he was,” Kuhl said. “We just tried to attack with my best stuff.”

Once he navigated his way through that jam, Kuhl actually cruised. He faced four more batters in the game and retired all four, striking out MJ Melendez to end the eighth and then Maikel Garcia to end the ninth and officially record his first save.

“That was pretty impressive for him to do that,” said Corbin, a lifelong starter who has had a few notable relief appearances in his career as well. “To come in with some guys on base, get out of a jam there, go in the dugout and sit down … with the way the game was going, it was kind of strange. It seemed like no lead was safe. So for him to go out there and go 1-2-3 in the ninth was huge.”

Rodriguez optioned to Triple-A Norfolk
Nats survive behind García's 6-hit night, Kuhl's s...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to