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Kingham sinks, Brault swims in bid for same spot

Bucs turn rare triple play; Kivlehan, Shuck continue to impress
@adamdberry
March 11, 2019

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Nick Kingham and Steven Brault have a lot in common this spring. They’re competing for the same spot in the Pirates’ rotation. They’re staying under the same roof. And they have the same goal every time they take the mound: Get ahead of hitters. Kingham

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Nick Kingham and Steven Brault have a lot in common this spring. They’re competing for the same spot in the Pirates’ rotation. They’re staying under the same roof. And they have the same goal every time they take the mound: Get ahead of hitters.

Kingham struggled to do so as he started the Pirates’ 6-2 loss to the Braves on Monday at Champion Stadium, while Brault avoided trouble by throwing strikes when he needed to during a four-inning relief appearance.

Kingham allowed five runs on six hits and four walks while striking out two in 3 2/3 innings against most of the Braves’ everyday lineup. Ender Inciarte hit a leadoff double, stole third base and scored on a single by Josh Donaldson. Ronald Acuna Jr. then swatted a sinker off the scoreboard in left-center field.

The Braves got to Kingham again in the third inning, when Freddie Freeman doubled and scored on a single by Nick Markakis. A run-scoring groundout brought home Acuna, who walked earlier in the inning. Overall, Kingham threw 43 of his 75 pitches for strikes.

“They’ve got some good guys over there. I fell behind on a lot of guys, forced to throw strikes,” Kingham said. “When the hitter knows a strike’s coming, it’s a little bit easier for them -- still not easy, but I did myself no service today.”

Last time out, Kingham showed how effective he can be when he’s ahead in the count. The right-hander limited most of Boston’s regular lineup to two hits and struck out three without one walk over four innings on Wednesday.

“Everything was working last game. At least I was able to put the ball over the plate early in the count to kind of dictate how the count goes,” Kingham said. “I realize what happened today, and I look forward to fixing it next time.”

Brault has seemingly addressed that issue since a three-out, four-walk appearance in Tampa on Feb. 28. He allowed only one run on three hits and one walk during Monday’s outing -- and the lone run was scored on a pair of ground-ball singles followed by a groundout.

“For the most part, I was getting ahead of people and getting ground balls,” Brault said. “Some of them got through, and that’s just kind of how it is. I thought it was a solid recovery after that.”

Brault didn’t walk anybody in his first start of the spring. After the rough outing in Tampa, he bounced back with a better (and walk-free) performance in Sarasota last Tuesday. He felt his work on Monday was another step in the right direction.

“I did that a lot better this time and last time, and the first time I did it well. That second outing was a joke,” Brault said. “That’s kind of one where we realized what we did wrong, and that’s in the rearview mirror. I’m not thinking about that anymore. Just moving forward, and I like where I’m at.”

Tripled up

The Pirates turned a rare 6-3-5 triple play to get Kingham out of the second inning.

After Charlie Culberson doubled and Dansby Swanson walked, Inciarte hit a grounder to Kevin Newman. The shortstop stepped on second base and fired the ball to Jose Osuna at first. Osuna stepped toward third base, then surprised everyone by taking another step and throwing the ball across the infield. Colin Moran tagged out Culberson, and the inning was over.

“I look to third and [Culberson was] way off, and it’s just like, ‘We got him! That was a triple play!’” Newman said. “Right up until the last five seconds of it, it was normal. It wasn’t anything crazy. That’s how those plays go. But it was pretty cool.”

Around the horn

• Manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates are reviewing video of left-hander Francisco Liriano’s four-walk, no-out performance in Tampa on Sunday. The veteran made three walk-free appearances to start the spring, but he has walked five of the last six hitters he’s faced.

“There’s something they were digging into today, because it hadn’t shown up until the one walk in the last outing and then yesterday,” Hurdle said. “I think it’s a time to bear down, peel back the tape and take some good, close looks at it, which we are doing right now.”

• Non-roster outfielders Patrick Kivlehan and JB Shuck continued their strong spring showings on Monday. Kivlehan started in left field and went 3-for-3, bringing his average to .370 in 11 Grapefruit League games. Shuck, batting .400 after 11 games, went 1-for-3 and played six innings in center field.

• Kingham had a special guest in attendance on Monday: his brother, Nolan. Also a pitcher, Nolan is in his first Minor League spring camp after being selected by the Braves in the 12th round of last year’s Draft.

Up next

The Pirates will return to LECOM Park on Tuesday to host the Twins at 1:05 p.m. ET. Opening Day starter Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make his first Grapefruit League start after pitching in simulated games all spring. Jordan Lyles, right-hander Michael Feliz and lefty Tyler Lyons are also expected to pitch. The game will air on MLB Network, AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, KDKA-FM and the Pirates Radio Network.

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