Nick Kingham delivers; Pirates blast Brewers
Another day, another career high in strikeouts for a young Pirates starter.
Another win, too.
On Friday, it was Nick Kingham. The rookie right-hander had nine strikeouts while pitching into the seventh inning of the Pirates’ 7-3 win against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.
The Pirates have won three in a row and five of six to pull within 9½ games of first place for the first time since July 2.
Kingham (4-4) won for the second time this homestand. His effort was the third time in four games a Pirates starter had at least nine strikeouts.
“All our guys have swing and miss stuff,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “They all are making pitches. They are sequencing well. The catchers are working with them well. Sometimes things are contiguous across the board. So give our guys credit for hitting spots and changing speeds.”
Eight games into this 11-game homestand, Pirates pitchers have 87 strikeouts, including 47 from their starters over the past seven games. Jameson Taillon had a career-best 10 strikeouts Thursday in the opening game of this five-game series that leads into the All-Star break.
The Pirates (45-49) have won the first two games of the series to improve to 5-2 this season against the Brewers, who entered with the National League’s best record.
“I just think that we’re maybe coming together right now,” said Josh Bell, who went 4 for 4, “and doing what we need to do to win.”
Gregory Polanco homered, and Bell was a homer short of the cycle in collecting a career high-tying four hits.
Kingham, who walked one, was most effective with his changeup. He got more swinging strikes (five) off the changeup (in 20 pitches) than any other pitch.
“He was on point,” Hurdle said. “Both the breaking balls played, added and subtracted from the velocity of the fastball. The fastball was firm. It was more firm today than it was last outing. The changeup was in use as well, so he had a complete, really, four-pitch mix today that he used very effectively.”
Though Kingham made his mistakes — serving up home runs to reliever Brandon Woodruff and to Travis Shaw — he retired the side in order during four of his seven innings. The home runs were the only extra-base hits he allowed.
“I had a good rhythm with my delivery,” said Kingham, who allowed 11 baserunners over 12 1 ⁄ 3 innings in his past two starts. “I felt pretty good, starting in the pen. The ball was coming out good, the way I wanted it to. It transferred into the game. Yeah, things were just going good, syncing up well. All the other pitches were coming off good off the fastball, have to establish that first. I think it just opened up the game.”
The Pirates, conversely, teed off on Milwaukee starter Junior Guerra. Five of the first six Pirates batters reached, with Corey Dickerson scoring on a Polanco sacrifice fly, Starling Marte coming home on a Colin Moran single and Francisco Cervelli scoring on a Bell double.
The Pirates had five extra-base hits in the first four innings against Guerra, including two doubles from Dickerson and a 393-foot home run from Polanco with nobody on in the fourth.
“It’s huge,” Bell said of getting an early lead. “Just setting that standard, putting the pressure on them. It allows ‘King’ to go out there and execute pitches and not really have to pitch out of any grinds or any ruts. Just going out there knowing he’s got the lead, not walking any guys, just doing his thing.”
Polanco’s homer was his team-leading 14th — all coming as a rightfielder. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the most recent time a Pirates’ rightfielder had so many before the All-Star break was Bobby Bonilla, who had 16 of his 19 at that point as a rightfielder.
Bell’s four-hit game was the third of his career. He scored when Jordy Mercer doubled in the third. Bell tripled in Moran in the eighth — a key insurance run because it prevented Hurdle from the temptation of using closer Felipe Vazquez for the sixth time over the past seven days, with a doubleheader scheduled for Saturday.
“I have not used closer three days in a row, a day off, and then three days in a row,” Hurdle said, “in eight years now (with the Pirates).”
Edgar Santana and Kyle Crick each recorded four outs (each also allowed two hits) with Crick earning his second save.
Moran went 3 for 4 with two runs and an RBI; every Pirates position player reached base at least once.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.