It looked like it was going to be anything but a laugher in the first inning, as Kuo, making his second start of the season, had trouble locating his pitches. Nate McLouth led off the game with a single, extending his hitting streak to 14 games. Kuo retired the next two batters, but proceeded to walk the next three, throwing 10 consecutive balls during one wild stretch and forcing in the first run of the night.
"When he's up in the zone, he sometimes has trouble getting it back down," said Dodgers catcher Russell Martin. "He creates his own damage sometimes with walking people."
Luckily for Kuo, Martin has an idea of how to get him back into a groove.
"Sometimes when he's high, I'll call for sliders so that he has to come down and throw the ball," Martin said.
Whatever changes Martin and Kuo made, it worked, because with the bases loaded, Kuo struck out Jose Bautista to end the inning.
Having managed to finally find the right release point, Kuo then struck out the side in the second and later fanned Luis Rivas leading off the third for his fifth straight strikeout.
"When he walks two guys right there, you can't go up there swinging," said Pirates catcher Ronny Paulino. "He was all over the place at the beginning and then all of a sudden he got one guy, and then he had his rhythm. He has a very good fastball, and once he found that command, he was fine."
Meanwhile, Pirates starter Matt Morris was having an easy time with the Dodgers, who had only one hit in the first three innings.
At that point, however, what appeared to be shaping up as a traditional pitchers battle suddenly turned into a Dodgers rout, as L.A. scored three runs on four hits in the fourth and then added five more runs in the fifth -- the big blow in the latter frame being Jeff Kent's three-run shot off Bucs reliever Phil Dumatrait.
"We're starting to get quality at-bats. Andruw [Jones] seems to have found his batting stance and Martin drove the ball," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre.
Unfortunately for Kuo, he wasn't able to last long enough to pick up the win, having left the game after four innings.
"We were going to let him go about 80 [pitches]," Torre said. "He was around 75 and didn't want to let him start a new inning. He spent most of his allotment in the first inning."
Overall, Torre was very pleased with the performance of both Kuo and Esteban Loaiza, who pitched the final five innings to pick up his first win of the season.
"Kuo pitched well after the first inning. I thought he pitched well," said Torre.
Explaining the key to Kuo's success, Torre said: "He has to be deceptive. He gets a lot of swings and misses. He competes. Even in the first inning, he wasn't aiming the ball. He was letting it go."
"He has that fastball that seems invisible to hitters," added Martin. "It seems as if he could throw that fastball all day and hitters just have problems making contact."
As for Loaiza, pitching with a lead allowed him to simply throw strikes.
"Loaiza got into a groove at the end, just painting the outside corner." Said Martin.
"Loaiza is a pro. He knows how to pitch. He throws a lot of strikes," said Torre. "When you get a little bit of a lead, he's the kind of guy you want out there. He throws strikes."
Whether this means Kuo will be the regular fifth starter or that Loiaza is going to get that chance -- or possibly even using the combination again -- Torre wasn't saying.
"We don't need a fifth starter till next Tuesday, so we'll see where we are then."
Glenn Rabney is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.