INDIANAPOLIS — Something just looks different, even though the end results are strikingly similar to last season.
Nick Kingham has a 1.59 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP through his first four starts this year with Triple-A Indianapolis.
That pitching line isn’t all that surprising. Kingham dominated the final two months of last season, with his 3.63 ERA during that stretch being drug down by two really bad outings.
But something feels different.
Indianapolis pitching coach Stan Kyles has noticed the difference from the steps of the dugout, taking him back to a pitcher he coached in Double-A Altoona five years ago: Kingham.
“The way he’s throwing the ball now reminds me of the time when he got to Altoona,” Kyles said. “When he got there he was throwing the ball super good and all of his stuff was 94-96 (MPH) and I haven’t seen that until this year.”
Injuries can provide a crude detour.
Kingham is expected to make his major league debut on Sunday, which was expected as a possibility throughout the week, and reported this morning by Stephen Nesbitt. It’s a feat not surprising considering his talent level. It was just a long, winding road to reach this point.
Kingham earned a mid-season promotion to Altoona during the 2013 season, not allowing a run in 5.2 innings of his debut at the level.
He was 21 years old and on the track he envisioned after being selected in the fourth round out of Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas.
“Every year go up a level,” Kingham said of his lofty goals as a youngster out of high school. “One year I wanted to go up in the middle of the season and I did that. I got up to Triple-A and was knocking on the door.”
Kingham made his Triple-A debut in 2014, also an impressive outing, throwing seven shutout innings. He only made six starts the following season before being forced to have Tommy John surgery.
And just as he was about to begin a full season last year, an ankle injury slowed his progress.
“All of the things I’ve been through — my path has not been what I dreamed of or what I thought it would be as an 18-year-old, eight years ago,” Kingham said. “But (his major league debut) will be that much sweeter because of the things I’ve overcome and the obstacles I’ve had to go around and over. It will be that much sweeter. will handle it with that much more care and it will be that much closer to my heart if it does happen.”
Kingham had the benefit of an entire offseason while being healthy and pitching extensively the season prior. That’s showing through so far this year. He’s more aware of his body and what it’s telling him physically and any mental obstacles seem distant.
“I feel a little more crisp this year,” Kingham said. “A sense of relief that you don’t have to worry about your elbow. I just have that much more confidence in my stuff because my body is better and there’s a sense of security that my body is tip-top shape right now.”
Last season, after a close-door meeting with then-manager Andy Barkett, Kyles and catcher Jacob Stallings, things started to click for Kingham. He allowed one earned run or less in seven of nine starts after that meeting.
He threw seven shutout innings in an elimination game in the Triple-A playoffs.
Simply put, Kingham was good after that meeting was held. But he’s looked a little bit better this year, forced to make two early-season starts in snowy conditions.
“He’s always been a confident kid but when you return from some injuries there’s always some doubt if you are going to hold up,” Kyles said. “He’s gotten through that and now he feels like his health is back 100 percent and he’s throwing the ball accordingly. His reckless abandon has returned and it’s showing on the field. His stuff has gotten better over the past couple years and now looks like a major league pitcher.”
And if past results are any indication, Kingham may do just fine in his major league debut. Just look back to not allowing a run over a combined 12.2 innings in his Double-A and Triple-A debuts.
Kingham doesn’t have any magic formula to explain his impressive debuts when he has jumped up a level.
“I’m super duper nervous,” Kingham said. “I think it’s just something new, something fresh and I’m trying to impress new people. It’s the first time some people have seen me throw and I want to make sure it’s the best.”
Kingham will soon get the chance to throw in front of a lot of new people. He’ll impress people with the journey he took to reach this point. And while he is likely only going to make a spot start, Kingham might soon find his way back to Pittsburgh in the near future as a legitimate starting pitching prospect.