After posting a 3.04 ERA in 12 games with Altoona, Nick Kingham has been even more dominant in his first four starts with Indianapolis.
Kingham has posted a 0.43 ERA in his first 26.2 innings in Triple-A. He has a strikeout to walk ratio of 20:5 with Indianapolis. The International League is hitting just .169 against him through the four outings.
Kingham struggled with control early in the season with Altoona. He walked three hitters in each of his first three starts this season. He also walked seven hitters combined in a pair of back-to-back starts on May 10 and May 16. He had 4.4 BB/9 in 43 innings over his first eight starts. In his starts with Indianapolis he has walked five total hitters and no more than two in any one outing. This command is what has fueled his success at the new level.
“I am just trying to get ahead of hitters,” Kingham said. “With the first pitch, I want to put the ball over the plate to make them swing and end the at-bat as soon as I can. My goal is to have them put the ball in play in three or less pitches.”
As for getting his command back in check, there was nothing drastic that he worked on mechanically. It was mostly just getting worked in and getting comfortable.
“It kind of just clicked together,” Kingham said. “It just wasn’t very polished at the beginning of the season. Now that mid-season is coming around, I am getting in better shape, delivery-wise, and things are just coming together a lot better.”
Not surprising with the walk numbers, Kingham is getting ahead of hitters and staying ahead. Over 63 percent of his pitches in Indianapolis have been strikes. Along with the low walk numbers, Kingham has allowed just 15 hits while going aggressively after batters.
The control issues from earlier in the season were uncharted territory for Kingham in his rise through the organization. In 2013, he allowed just 44 free passes in 143.1 innings between Altoona and Bradenton. In 2012, with West Virginia, he walked 36 batters in 127 innings.
Kingham isn’t an extreme ground ball pitcher like most of the upper level starters in the organization. This year he has a 46.8% ground ball rate between Altoona and Indianapolis. Being more of a power pitcher, this stat is less crucial for Kingham than for sinker ball pitchers, who comprise most of the upper level starters. However, the split being this close is encouraging.
As for the recent success, Kingham credits a great deal of it to confidence and belief in his stuff.
“I am just trusting myself, really, more than anything,” Kingham said. “I am believing in my pitches and really trusting that it is right pitch to throw. I have full conviction in it and just going right at the hitter and attacking them.”
As a pitcher who works with a fastball, curveball, and changeup, Kingham said that he takes an approach on the mound of looking to establish the fastball and place the ball wherever he wants. However, the pitch that he feels just as comfortable with is one that he has seen tremendous progress with.
“My changeup, I feel, has come a long way since Low-A,” Kingham said. “I feel that is the most improved and what I have the most confidence in, other than my fastball.”
He said that he looks to get about a six to eight mile per hour difference on the change-up from the fastball, just to keep hitters from sitting on the heater and to mess with timing. Kingham said that his curveball is used as a get-me-over first pitch or a put away pitch for strikeouts. However, he has great feel for all three right now.
As for the rest of the season and a possible late season promotion, Kingham said that he will look to “keep the foot on the pedal and stay as consistent as I can” throughout the remainder of the campaign.
Kingham appears to have the making of a solid middle of the rotation big league starter, with top of the rotation potential. It has been traditional for the Pirates to allow its pitchers to get plenty of innings at each level, rather than rushing them to the show. This method, combined with the pitching depth toward the top of the organization, points to Kingham getting a look at earliest September this season, if at all. However, with the uncertainty of the rotation next year, Kingham should get a look coming out of the spring, depending on how free agency is handled. The upside of his stuff, combined with being just 22-years-old, shows that the sky is the limit for Kingham’s future.