"I used to be a starter in high school, but ever since I was turned into a reliever my freshman year in college I've felt more comfortable and that's where I see myself pitching in the future," he said.
That comfort landed him a spot on the Eastern League All-Star East team because the original pick, Sea Dogs' left-handed starter Chris Hernandez, was unable to pitch in the game. Kurcz joined Portland first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez and outfielder Bryce Brentz on the all-star team, and threw 1.2 innings of relief with two strikeouts in the game.
Kurcz first-half stats included a 3-4 record and a 3.64 ERA with four saves and 60 strikeouts in 42 innings pitched. He also led all Eastern League relievers with a 12.86 strikeout per nine innings ratio.
"Obviously it's an honor to be selected to that team. Chris deserved it but couldn't go so I'm glad they selected me," he said. "I played last year in the Florida State League All-Star game and it was awesome, and I was happy to be able to be an all-star again this year; it was fun."
The 21-year-old's journey to the bullpen hasn't been the most traditional, but he's taken it on with enthusiasm, personality, and talent that is some of the best in the Eastern League.
A starter throughout high school, Kurcz was asked to close games in his freshman year at the Air Force Academy, and although not thrilled about it at first, warmed up to relief pitching and has adopted the mentality that it takes to pitch in relief situations.
"My freshman year at Air Force and I was kinda disappointed because I wanted to start, but after a few saves I was really excited and I felt comfortable in the bullpen," he said. "Coming in later in the game is a point where the score's tight and where your adrenaline gets going, It's where I want to be now."
Besides starting games in the first half of his first year with Cubs' high-A affiliate Daytona Cubs, Kurz has been strictly a reliever, and with the way he throws it's hard to find any reason why he shouldn't be in that position.
The 6-0, 175-pound right-hander throws a hard four-seam fastball that ranges from 94-97, a major contributor to his team leading 70 strikeouts in 48.1 innings pitched.
It hasn't always been that way, though, which could explain his transition to relief as somewhat of a natural progression.
"In high school I was nothing special, but then freshman year in college I was throwing 88-90," he said.
Kurz then transferred to Southern Nevada Community College — where he was a teammate of Nationals' rookie sensation Bryce Harper — and gained even more velocity.
"I had a big spike when I went to junior college. I was doing a lot more shoulder program stuff and I think that really helped my velocity," he said. "Even this year some of the workouts I've done have definitely helped me. If I can maintain this that'd be great."
Kurcz' fastball may be his most dominating pitch right now, but developing his secondary pitches [specifically his slider] is a goal he's made a priority in the first half, and it continues to be one as Portland moves into the second half.
The velocity of his slider [82-85 MPH] makes it difficult for opposing hitters to hit it, but throwing it for strikes is what Kurcz says will make it even more effective.
"The slider is coming along a lot better than it was earlier in the season, and I'm starting to feel more comfortable with it; starting to throw more strikes," he said. "It's turned into a pitch I'm happy with right now. There's still work to be done on it, but it's making good improvement.
"In the all-star game I threw a lot more sliders than I usually would, and I think that was a good outing for me to use it because I was finding comfort with that pitch no matter what the count was. That was a big step for me."
Usually a two-inning guy late in games, Kurcz likes being on the mound when the game is close and has adjusted to the pressure that that point in the game brings. So, along with further development of his slider and other secondary pitches like his changeup, Kurcz makes working on his mental game a point of emphasis as well.
"I kind of got away from the mental aspect earlier in the season; I was going out there trying not to do things rather than just play my game. But now I've talked with my pitching coach to kind of change that a little bit to where I'm going out there to attack the zone, and not worrying about the score, the hitter, or anything," he said.
"That's made a huge difference in my game, and if that's something I can continue to do each outing, I'm not going to say I'll be successful every time, but it will open up more opportunities to be successful."
With an arm like Kurcz and his ability to control the mental aspect of the game on the mound, we may be seeing him in the bullpen in Boston sooner than later.
Kurcz Finds Comfort In Relief Role
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