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Kingham back to bullpen after two starts

@oapostrophesd
May 16, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle isn’t tipping his hand about who will take the mound Saturday against the Padres, but he did scratch one name off the list of possibilities. Nick Kingham is back in the bullpen after making two starts, Hurdle said Thursday. After eight relief appearances,

SAN DIEGO -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle isn’t tipping his hand about who will take the mound Saturday against the Padres, but he did scratch one name off the list of possibilities.

Nick Kingham is back in the bullpen after making two starts, Hurdle said Thursday.

After eight relief appearances, Kingham’s past two outings were as a starter. The 27-year-old right-hander went four innings in each start and allowed a total of nine runs, 13 hits and four walks.

“The four-pitch mix plays well at times,” Hurdle said of Kingham’s repertoire. “We need more of an aggressive nature, more command and execution. Maybe backing him off for one-, two-inning stints, three innings at the max, one time through the lineup, that could help.”

Kingham has a 6.39 ERA as a reliever in 2019, 10.13 as a starter. When he pitches in relief, opponents have slashed .271/.352/.458 against him. As a starter, the numbers are .371/.436/.714.

With Kingham out of the mix, the decision for Saturday comes down to left-hander Steven Brault or using an opener for a short stint. That very well could be determined by how Hurdle uses his bullpen in the first game or two of the series. Even if an opener gets the nod, it is clear Brault has an opportunity to prove himself as a starter, since the rest of the rotation is right-handed.

“I’d like to have a left-hander,” Hurdle said of the rotation, “and not just because he’s a left-hander. There are teams that, because of their composition, you’d have an advantage and you’d like to have a left-hander starting. For teams that struggle against left-handed pitching, that could be a pivotal point in a series. If you have a guy who can flip some switch-hitters around, change the lineup dynamic a little bit, it can help. But it’s all about pitch execution. Good pitchers are going to beat good-hitting teams with good pitch execution.”

Like Kingham, Brault has made two starts after beginning the season in the bullpen. Like Kingham, he has struggled: 7 2/3 innings, eight runs, 11 hits, five walks. The 27-year-old was born in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa, Calif., and attended Grossmont High School about 12 miles east of Petco Park. If he gets the nod Saturday, it would be his first start at Petco Park and third appearance.

Lyles on deck

Less than 10 months ago, the Padres said goodbye to Jordan Lyles via waivers in a move that garnered little notice. Lyles finished 2018 well with the Brewers (3.31 ERA, 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 11 relief appearances) and has been exceptional since signing with the Pirates as a free agent.

The 28-year-old right-hander, who will start against the Padres on Friday, is 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA and 1.09 WHIP through seven starts.

“I see a man continuing to try to hone his craft, to use his weapons, to improvise and overcome if the fastball-curveball mix isn’t working,” Hurdle said. “He incorporated the slider last time. He’s shown he can throw the changeup for outs for soft contact. …

“He’s just a guy who’s really focused and has shown strong conviction with each and every pitch.”

Shaun O'Neill is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in San Diego. Follow him on Twitter @oapostrophesd.