30 for 30 MLB roundup: Pirates' Kuhl at ease with tough debut matchup

Pirates starter Chad Kuhl is preparing to face the great Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in his major league debut on Sunday Night Baseball. Getty Images, Icon Sportswire

PITTSBURGH--The Pittsburgh Pirates will try to win their third straight game tonight against Clayton Kershaw -- a difficult assignment considering the Los Angeles Dodgers are 14-1 in Kershaw's starts this season. ESPN colleague Jessica Mendoza sent this piece along about tonight's game:

Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl will make his MLB debut versus the Dodgers (and Kershaw no less) on Sunday Night Baseball. But the past couple weeks leading to this big moment have been some of the most difficult of his career. Once fellow Pirates starter Jameson Taillon was called up from Triple-A in the first week of June, something changed for Kuhl. He was excited for Taillon's opportunity, but he felt he had to do something different to get that same call.

Kuhl placed more emphasis on trying to strike out batters instead of his usual -- and extremely successful approach -- of pitching to contact and getting ground ball outs. In his first 10 starts this season, covering 57 1/3 innings, he gave up only eight earned runs. In his past four starts, since Taillon was promoted to the big leagues, Kuhl has given up 14 runs in 17 2/3 innings.

Despite the struggles, the Pirates believed he would be ready once he reached the big leagues, that he would take the pressure off himself to actually get there. And that was exactly what he told me his reaction was when he got the call this past Wednesday: Relief. Calm. Then excitement.

Especially when he talked about making his first start against the best pitcher in baseball in Kershaw. His response was an immediate ear-to-ear grin as he told me, "This is how you want it to be. Special. Something I can tell my kids about in the future. I got to go up against the very best."

And when you really think about it, he just went from putting a world of expectation on his shoulders to now almost none. There will be little expectation for him to outduel Kershaw, so he can go back to pitching in the way that got him to the big leagues: aggressive, attacking the strike zone and being confident in the opportunity he was worried might never happen.

Kuhl checked the Twitter feed to find out who he would be pitching against, and got a nice surprise, he recalled.

From Elias Sports Bureau: Kuhl becomes the third pitcher whose MLB debut came in a head-to-head start against Kershaw. Brandon Cumpton did that in 2013, also at PNC Park, and Archie Bradley made his debut against Kershaw at Chase Field in 2015. Cumpton took a no-decision for the Pirates in his debut, while Bradley earned a win, throwing six scoreless innings for Arizona in his first big league game.