Nick Kingham was on the mound for Altoona tonight as they took on the Trenton Thunder on the road. The game was delayed at the beginning due to a heavy downpour about a half hour before first pitch was scheduled. With the delay setting the game back 15 minutes, it looked like Kingham was off his game in the first inning, but he settled down for the next 4 2/3 innings, turning a poor beginning into a nice overall appearance.
This is the first time that I have seen Kingham pitch since he was in West Virginia in 2011 and there was a noticeable difference right from the start — his velocity. Two years ago, the highest I had his fastball against the Lakewood BlueClaws was 92 MPH, and that was just once. Tonight he hit 96 MPH three times and was sitting 93-95 through the first four innings.
In the first inning, Kingham walked the lead-off batter, then got an out on a grounder to shortstop. Following that, he had three straight AB’s in which the Thunder batters hit the ball hard, bringing home two runs. Kingham gave up a triple, then a deep fly ball that resulted in a sacrifice fly. The last batter laced a single into left field. Through five batters, he threw 24 pitches and looked very bad. However, Kingham faced just 18 batters to get the last 15 outs of his start, walking two and giving up a bloop single to center field.
There were a couple surprising things about this outing. The first one was a new pitch from Kingham, well sort of new. In High School, Kingham had a two-seam fastball that he used all the time. The Pirates took that pitch away from him and he didn’t get it back until he reached Altoona. He had used it a handful of times in Bradenton, but nothing regularly. Recently, he had only been using it during his bullpen sessions, but tonight there were clearly two different fastballs coming in due to the differences in speed. His four-seam fastball sat 93-95, touching 96 early, and he also threw an 89-91 MPH two-seamer that he placed well. Kingham also threw plenty of change-ups and curveballs tonight, really mixing up his four offerings.
The other surprising part was the fact they let Kingham throw 99 pitches on a humid night. He came out for the sixth innings with 87 pitches to his credit already. In the sixth, he looked gassed and was pulled after walking the last batter. His velocity was down late and that is a problem that he has had in the past. It looks like they are stretching him out, building up his pitch count, in turn, hoping to build up his stamina so he can become the 200+ inning pitcher he projects to be.
As I mentioned, the last five innings (counting the last out in the first), Kingham looked solid, but that was mostly due to excellent control on his fastball and overpowering some hitters. His curveball has the makings of being a plus pitch, but I didn’t see any of that tonight. He missed badly on a couple and really hung 3-4 others that were hit hard. He still used the pitch all game, though it was clearly not working. His change-up looked average. He wasn’t missing much with it and it did get one swing and miss, resulting in his second strikeout of the night.
Overall, I was impressed due to the improvements that I saw from just two years ago, two levels lower. That previous outing left me wondering just how good could he be with 90-91 MPH velocity and no plus offerings. Tonight, he had the big velocity, with strong command and while I personally didn’t see the plus curveball, I have heard good reports about it. It wasn’t your typical night, a humid night with a delay due to rain and a very shaky start to the game. Kingham recovered from that well and finished his night strong, putting up an impressive pitch count in the process. He isn’t a finished product, but he is certainly well ahead of where he was last time I saw him.
**The Curve ended up losing the first game of a doubleheader by a 3-2 score. Jhonathan Ramos came in to get the last out of the sixth after Kingham walked the last batter he faced. Ramos got two quick outs in the seventh inning, then gave up three straight hits. The last hit was a grounder back to him that hit off his foot and shot up in the air, giving him no chance to record an out and allowing the winning run to score.
**Alex Dickerson had the hit of the night for the Curve, bringing home both of their runs with a home run to straight away center field. In Trenton, it is 407 to dead center and they have a huge wall out there, with the home run line about 8-10 feet up the wall. Dickerson’s homer was at least 20 feet above that line. In his last AB, this time facing a lefty, Dickerson smoked a ball to left field that was caught, but he still made great contact for a second time.
**Gregory Polanco didn’t get much of a chance to show off his skills tonight. He showed excellent patience at the plate, taking some close pitches. He walked three times and grounded out to first base. Polanco stole a base, but the catcher dropped the ball and no throw was made. With the three walks, he has already surpassed his walk total with Bradenton, which came in 27 more games. Polanco scored ahead of Dickerson on the home run.
**Mel Rojas and Justin Howard each went 1-for-4, striking out three times apiece. Charlie Cutler reached base all three plate appearances, drawing two walks and hitting a single up the middle.