Nick Kingham was looking for history during his first Major League Baseball start. The Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher retired the first 20 batters he faced on Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Kingham, 26, would have been the first pitcher in MLB history to record a perfect game in his first career game and only the second rookie to do so overall, joining the Chicago White Sox’s Charlie Robertson, who pitched a perfect game against the Detroit Tigers on April 30, 1922, in his fourth career start. Kingham carried a perfect game later than pitcher making his MLB in history, according to the Pirates broadcast.
Kingham gave up a two-out single to the Cardinals’ in the top of the 7th to end his bid for a perfect game and no hitter. Kingham, who struck out nine Cardinals batters, completed the 7th inning by getting out the next batter, Marcell Ozuna. The Pirates went on to defeat the Cardinals, 5-0, to give Kingham his first career MLB victory.
According to MLB.com, “Kingham faced 22 hitters and got ahead to 15 of them with a first-pitch strike. He threw 33 sliders, according to Statcast™, and the Cardinals swung and missed on 12 of them. The 6-foot-5 righty threw 72 of his 98 pitches for strikes.”
Here’s what you need to know about Kingham:
1. Kingham Said He Was ‘Excited’ to Make His Long-Awaited MLB Debut
Nick Kingham told reporters he was looking forward to his long-awaited MLB debut after spending more than eight seasons in the minor leagues in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
“I couldn’t be more excited, couldn’t be more prepared to come in and finally pitch in the big league level,” Kingham told TribLive.com on Saturday. “Just the length that it took me to get here has made me who I am and made me more prepared than I ever would have been. I’m excited. I’m ready.”
He added, “It’s not how you draw it up. It’s not how I envisioned it when I signed here eight years ago. But it’s my path. It’s my journey. It’s my story. It’s who I am.”
His manager, Clint Hurdle, told MLB.com, “He’s in as good of a place as he’s ever been, just about playing the game, pitching, confidence, the things he’s learned. I’m looking forward to seeing him pitch.”
2. He Was Drafted by the Pirates in the 4th Round of the 2010 Draft Out of His Las Vegas High School
Kingham, who was born in Houston, Texas, went to Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, after his family relocated there during his childhood. Kingham was Little League teammates with fellow future MLB pitchers Aaron Blair and Paul Sewald.
During his senior season at Sierra Vista, Kingham went 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 13 games en route to First-Team All-State honors. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 4th Round of the 2010 draft. He received a $485,000 signing bonus, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Kingham decided to sign with the Pirates rather than pitch at the University of Oregon, where had committed to play college baseball.
Kingham, who is 6’5″ tall and weights 225 pounds, is known for having great control and for his changeup, according to MiLB.com.
Kingham was expected to head back to the minors after Sunday’s start, but his debut performance could change things.
“The reality of the situation is that Kingham will probably only be up for the start on Sunday now but will rejoin the team again later. The team seems determined to find out what exactly they have in Tyler Glasnow, so while the tall right hander has had his ups and downs this season, it will surprise no one if he gets another opportunity to start,” Ethan Obstarczyk wrote on PiratesBreakdown.com ahead of Kingham’s debut. “But a solid start by Kingham on Sunday could force the team to make a tough decision. A tough decision, but a decision that any team would be happy to make. Even if he is not a permanent member of the rotation this year, Kingham can use this start on Sunday and any others he has this season to impress management and be in the conversation for 2019.”
3. Kingham’s Career Has Been Slowed by Injuries, Including Tommy John Surgery in 2015
Kingham was slow to reach the Pirates roster because of injuries he suffered throughout his career. After rising steadily through the ranks, he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015, which cost him most of that season and the 2016 season, in which he only played 10 games. Kingham also missed time early in the 2017 season with an ankle injury.
Hurdle told TribLive.com that Kingham’s rough road to the majors makes him a player worth watching.
“Any time a pitcher has to take a step back and deal with what Nick has had to deal with, it gets your attention,” Hurdle told the newspaper.
Overall Kingham has put together a 43-41 record with a 3.37 ERA and 617 strikeouts during his minor league career. He is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in four starts this year with the Triple A Indianapolis Indians.
4. He Was Ranked as the Eighth-Best Prospect in the Pirates Organization by Baseball America Before This Season
Kingham was ranked as the eighth-best prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization entering the season by Baseball America.
“Kingham was one of several long-framed high school pitchers the Pirates wen over slot to sign at the beginning of the decade. However, he has become a forgotten member of the group thanks to injury,” Baseball America wrote in its 2018 prospect handbook. “Kingham’s average fastball generally sits around 92 mph, but his 6-foot-5 frame allows him to create downhill plane. He has an average hard curveball with three-quarters break and a plus changeup with sinking action. His control is a strength, but he can sometimes get hit hard by staying in the zone too much. The Pirates consider Kingham one of 10 pitchers they could feel comfortable starting at the big league level, but the Pirates rotation remained relatively injury free in 2017, and he was never called up.”
John Sickels, of SBNation, ranked him as the team’s 14th-best prospect, writing, “ssed most of 2015 and 2016 with Tommy John but has his stuff back and throws strikes; low-90s fastball with sink, mixes in solid-average change-up and inconsistent curveball; development has been slowed by the injury and he’s getting old for a prospect but he has some Triple-A success and he throws strikes, giving him a shot as a fourth/fifth starter.”
MLB.com ranked Kingham as the 12th-best prospect in the Pirates’ organization, writing before the season, “The Pirates were happy that Kingham largely got a full, healthy season in after his year was initially delayed by an ankle injury, knowing that some dead arm periods were to be expected. He was a little timid in the first half, especially in throwing his above-average changeup, the pitch he blew out on in 2015.
MLB.com added, “His command came back just fine, though he was too hittable at times. He throws his low-90s fastball downhill, getting a fair amount of ground-ball outs while his curve is solid average and that changeup has very good sink. Kingham got over the hump in the second half of 2017 and the Pirates believe he’s readier than ever to contribute to the big league club. It’s been a long wait, but Kingham still has the potential to be No. 4-type starter.”
5. His Parents, Younger Brother & Fiancee Were in the Crowd for His MLB Debut
Kingham’s parents, Don and Roxane, younger brother, Nolan, and his fiancee, Logan Justice, were in the crowd for his Major League debut, according to TribLive.com. Kingham and his fiancee, Logan, are getting married in November 2019.
His brother, Nolan, pitches for the University of Texas and was able to attend Sunday’s game because the Longhorns were at West Virginia University for a weekend series, according to TribLive.
His proud mom, Roxane, wrote on Facebook before the game, “Dreams do come true….Nick’s major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sunday, April 29, 2018. Feeling incredibly blessed. Love that smile. ?”