INDIANAPOLIS – On May 7, 2015, Nick Kingham went down with elbow pain in his last start in Triple-A Indianapolis. He would later require Tommy John surgery, putting him out of action for the rest of the 2015 season, and rehabbing for the 2016 season. After making his final rehab start with the Bradenton Marauders last night — throwing five shutout innings with one hit allowed — he has arrived back in Indianapolis, joining the team this afternoon and making it back to where he was before the injury.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Kingham said of returning to Indianapolis. “The only difference would be probably going up to Pittsburgh. It is so unbelievably awesome to be back here. I’m not saying that to be cheesy. Two years and five days — but I’m not really keeping count — to the day when I left here. I’ve had that date in my mind ever since, and I’ve been trying to get back here ever since. It’s unbelievable to be back here. It feels really good.”
Kingham said that he’s full go and doesn’t believe he has any restrictions. The only reason he didn’t start the season in Indianapolis was due to an ankle injury in Spring Training that forced him to build his innings back up from scratch. Since that put him out for a month and a half, it’s unlikely that he will need to monitor his innings in his first full season back.
He threw last night, he won’t be available to start until Tuesday. The Indians have a double-header that day, so that is currently expected to be when he makes his official return to the level.
The next step will be making it up to Pittsburgh. Neal Huntington has talked about him as an option for the Pirates later in the season. He worked out with Jameson Taillon during the offseason to try and repeat what Taillon did when he made his MLB debut. But in terms of getting up to the big leagues, the comparisons to Taillon end with the workouts.
“I think the biggest thing is now it’s time to be myself. Do what I’m capable of doing, don’t try to be like anyone else,” Kingham said. “Me and Jameson would push each other in the weight room, but when it comes to on the field stuff just know who I am. Know what I’m capable of. Just stay within myself, perform like I need to perform, just get people out the way I know how to do it, and things will take care of themselves.”
One encouraging sign is Kingham’s command in his build up this year. He only issued one walk while building up in extended Spring Training, and didn’t have a walk in five innings last night in Bradenton. He wasn’t a guy who issued a lot of walks throughout his career, but saw his control fade just before his injury. Kingham doesn’t know if this was related to his elbow, but is glad he’s back to throwing with good control again.
“I don’t think it had any correlation, but maybe it did,” Kingham said of the control problems. “Maybe my arm was not feeling that great and I just didn’t realize it. Overall, coming into this, the control has been fine. I’ve only had one walk. I had one full count last night, and I’m just attacking, throwing strikes. I feel good with where all of my pitches are right now. I feel real confident in where all of my pitches are right now, that I can throw my pitches in any count. I’m happy to be in the position that I am right now, coming in full stride.”
The Pirates have a few other candidates in the Triple-A who can help the MLB rotation this year, with Steven Brault and Drew Hutchison as short-term options, and Clay Holmes and Tyler Eppler as long-term options. When Kingham’s game is on, he’s got the chance to be the best of the group, rivaled only by Holmes. If he returns to the pitcher he was before the surgery, he could make it to Pittsburgh in the second half.
Bostick and Moroff Return
Players have 72 hours to report to their minor league assignment after being optioned from the majors. It only took Max Moroff and Chris Bostick a few hours. By the time the move was made official that they were sent down, both players had already reported to Indianapolis, eligible to be active for tonight’s game.
The assignment for both players was always going to be short, ending when Adam Frazier and David Freese came off the disabled list. The opportunity allowed for Moroff to get his first hit, and Bostick to make his Major League debut.
“It was really cool,” Bostick said of the experience. “Pretty historic place, Dodger Stadium. A lot of people there. More people there than I had ever seen. It was a lot of fun, and hopefully I can get more opportunities.”
Bostick is in his first full season in Triple-A this year, and putting up some impressive numbers with Indianapolis, hitting for a .320/.347/.495 line. He credits the results to doing a better job with pitch recognition, and having good at-bats with good pitches to swing at. While his debut was short-lived, he could be an option for the Pirates moving forward if they need depth, and it might be easier for him the next time.
“I think throughout the years in the minor leagues for everybody it’s kind of waiting for that opportunity,” Bostick said. “It’s almost kind of a pressure taken away from you. You know what it’s like, you’ve been there for a couple of days. Kind of come back here and get back to work and do whatever you can to get back.”
Moroff had his MLB debut last year, but was mostly an emergency option. This time around was different.
“It was pretty sweet,” Moroff said. “I got my first hit, obviously, and I got some starts, which was pretty cool to play with those guys. I felt good man. I was comfortable. It was a lot of fun.”
Moroff said that he didn’t know what to expect going up, and was surprised to see he was in the lineup right away. He has also been hitting well in Triple-A, with a .258/.345/.546 line in 97 at-bats. That includes eight home runs, tying his season total last year. While the home runs are good to see, the Pirates don’t want Moroff trying to be a home run hitter.
“They want me to focus on gap power,” Moroff said. “Not try to do too much, and stay within myself. They don’t want me to try doing anything that I’m not capable of doing. Just keep doing what I’m doing down here and hopefully get up there soon.”