The Nationals announced that right-hander Chad Kuhl has been signed to a minor league deal, and invited to Washington’s big league Spring Training camp.
Kuhl had a 5.72 ERA and well below-average strikeout (17.8%) and walk (9.4%) rates over 137 innings with the Rockies last season, and he also missed most of August due to a hip strain. The righty was again placed on the injured list right at the very end of the season with a triceps strain, and it isn’t known how that injury might’ve impacted Kuhl’s shaky performance in September, or how it affected his free agent market.
Over six MLB seasons, Kuhl has a 4.74 ERA over 576 2/3 frames with the Rockies and Pirates. 2017 was Kuhl’s best year, but that 2.2 fWAR performance over 157 1/3 innings with Pittsburgh is the clear high mark of an inconsistent career. Since that borderline breakout season, Kuhl has thrown only 348 2/3 total innings — he missed 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery — and amassed 1.0 fWAR.
Even despite these lackluster numbers, Kuhl has shown some flashes of being able to pitch at a higher level, and he has been frequently mentioned as a trade candidate during his career (though, pitching for non-contenders has also played a role in that status). The contract with Washington represents another new chapter in his career, and while the Nats also seem on pace for a losing season, Kuhl can at least work in a more normalized pitching environment than the thin air of Coors Field, or even the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at the Triple-A level.
Of course, pitching for the Rockies isn’t the sole reason Kuhl’s 2022 season was such a struggle. As per Statcast, his sinker was the single least-effective pitch thrown in the majors last season, with a -26 Run Value. Kuhl threw his sinker 42.2% of the time, the most of any of his offerings. Compounding the problem, Kuhl’s average fastball velocity was 92.8 mph, a significant drop from his 94.8 mph career average in his previous five seasons.
The Nationals’ coaching staff will have plenty of fixes to make as they take a look at Kuhl in camp, though the minor league deal represents a pretty risk-free move for the team. If Kuhl can get on track, he provides a good veteran depth arm for a rotation that will lean heavily on younger pitchers. The District is hoping that at least one of Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, or Cade Cavalli can take a step forward and become a reliable MLB-level pitcher in 2023. As for more seasoned hurlers, the Nationals simply don’t know what to expect from Patrick Corbin after three mediocre seasons, or whether or not Stephen Strasburg can finally get healthy and be a regular contributor.
To this end, the Nats signed Trevor Williams to a two-year deal earlier this winter, adding some veteran experience to the rotation mix. Swingman Erasmo Ramirez was also re-signed, and Wily Peralta (who has worked as a starter in the past) was signed on a minor league deal as further depth for the rotation or bullpen. While the Nationals’ priority is on getting a look at their younger starters, the rotation is enough of an open book that there’s plenty of opportunity for Kuhl or other pitchers to make a mark in Spring Training.