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Kingham lifts Bucs with bat, arm in crucial push

Righty throws 6 innings of 1-run ball, collects first MLB hit -- a 2-run double
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates snapped their five-game losing streak on Sunday, riding Nick Kingham's six-inning start and his first Major League hit -- a two-run double -- to a 4-1 win against the Phillies at PNC Park. They'll need more games like that over the next week, or their roster might look considerably different next month.

Before the Pirates took the field on Sunday, general manager Neal Huntington admitted the club's recent performance -- Pittsburgh has lost 31 of its last 46 games -- has put the Pirates in a tough spot. They are 12 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Brewers and nine games out of a Wild Card spot, with five teams between Pittsburgh and a postseason berth.

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates snapped their five-game losing streak on Sunday, riding Nick Kingham's six-inning start and his first Major League hit -- a two-run double -- to a 4-1 win against the Phillies at PNC Park. They'll need more games like that over the next week, or their roster might look considerably different next month.

Before the Pirates took the field on Sunday, general manager Neal Huntington admitted the club's recent performance -- Pittsburgh has lost 31 of its last 46 games -- has put the Pirates in a tough spot. They are 12 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Brewers and nine games out of a Wild Card spot, with five teams between Pittsburgh and a postseason berth.

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Video: PHI@PIT: Marte makes a nice sliding catch in center 

The Pirates' hot start fortified their belief that they might contend sooner than expected. But in a little more than seven weeks, they've gone from nine games above .500 to seven games under. Unless they turn things around quickly and dramatically, they're expected to approach the non-waiver Trade Deadline as sellers. As Huntington said on Sunday, "The optimism has turned to realism."

"You don't want to overemphasize what a week can mean, but this is one of those weeks where 4-4 doesn't do us much good," Huntington added. "We need to make up some ground here in a short period of time. We need to show that we can continue to do that. Otherwise, we get to the point in time where we start to take a realistic look at this club."

The Pirates are now set to host the Nationals for three games, before playing five games in four days against the Brewers before the All-Star break. It's a good chance for the Bucs to prove themselves against two teams they're chasing. But if they don't somehow vault back into the postseason race, Huntington must look forward.

"I think every week is important," catcher Francisco Cervelli said. "We've got to win series. We've got to play better. I don't know what Neal is looking for with the Trade Deadline, but we've just got to win. That's the only way we can be in the hunt, because the other teams upstairs are winning."

Video: PHI@PIT: Cervelli discusses return from DL, Bucs' win

If it comes to that, the Pirates will field offers for players nearing free agency. Pittsburgh has a handful of players with expiring contracts and several more with only a year or two of club control remaining. That group is headlined by Cervelli, who proved his health with a double and a stolen base in his first game off the disabled list on Sunday. It also includes left fielder Corey Dickerson, second baseman Josh Harrison, shortstop Jordy Mercer, infielders David Freese and Sean Rodriguez, and right-hander Ivan Nova.

Huntington took full responsibility for the Pirates' losing record, saying, "This is on me. This is a club I put together. … I'm ultimately accountable for everything." He also expressed hope for the future, which is why Pittsburgh won't plan on a full tear-down-and-rebuild process regardless of results.

The Pirates remain confident in their young core of players in Pittsburgh -- a group that now includes Kingham, who bounced back from an ugly start at Dodger Stadium by holding the Phillies to one run on four hits and striking out five on Sunday. They like their upper-level prospects in the Minors, including middle infielders Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer, and Mitch Keller, the organization's No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. If the Pirates remain out of the postseason picture, it might be time for them to take a look at the next wave.

"We believe that this young group is going to be the core of the next Pirates' winning team," Huntington said. "We go on a nice run here this July, and it becomes this year. If not, how do we turn that corner for next year?"

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Little Leagued: Kingham got it done on the mound and at the plate on Sunday. On the mound, he utilized all of his pitches -- a strong mix of fastballs, curveballs, changeups and sliders -- to pick up his first win since May 4. At the plate, he surprised even himself with a line-drive, two-run double to left field off Phillies starter Drew Anderson.

Video: PHI@PIT: Kingham drives in 2 on 1st career hit

"It was a good day for me. I'm happy with how things came about," Kingham said. "I got lucky and hit one. It was good. It was fun. On the mound, I felt like I got into a good rhythm."

It was Kingham's first Major League hit and RBI. He recorded only two extra-base hits in the Minors, none since 2016.

"We laughed when we came in and congratulated him," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He Little Leagued them. He pitched and hit. Doesn't happen very often where a guy can go out and Little League them."

SOUND SMART
Kingham is 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA in four starts at PNC Park this season. The rookie is 1-3 with a 6.41 ERA in four starts on the road.

UP NEXT
Nova will get the start to open a three-game series with the Nationals at PNC Park on Monday. After three consecutive quality starts, the right-hander allowed seven earned runs over five innings last time out against the Dodgers. Righty Jefry Rodriguez will start for the Nationals. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Nick Kingham