Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Nick Kingham had to trust in the team’s rehab process.
The radar gun dropped down to the mid-80s.
His catcher was on his way to the mound, along with the Indianapolis Indians trainer.
Nick Kingham was scared.
“I knew something was wrong.” Kingham told me by phone. “I felt no pain. I wasn’t sure what was going on.”
“I was afraid to throw the next pitch.”
Of course, we are talking about Kingham’s elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery in May of 2015.
Drafted in the same 2010 draft class as Jameson Taillon, Kingham was actually thought by many to be on track to be the first to make his MLB debut. His command of his pitches coupled with his 6’6″ frame and solid delivery mechanics had many bullish on his future.
Instead, Kingham set his mind towards coming back from the injury, which was frustrating at times.
When asked about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ industry-held perception as being ‘conservative’ in bringing pitchers back from elbow issues, Kingham agreed with that sentiment.
“There will always be a friendly competition [with Taillon]”
“At times I did think so [that the Pirates were very conservative],” Kingham told me. “But when you get to that next step, that next part of the process, you understand why it takes so long. There’s a reason why it takes a year, or a year and a half.”
As things stand now, Kingham is on his own throwing program as Spring Training looms. “I’m kind of on my own program now,” he told me. “But the Pirates also give us a general program that is more for everybody. I’m healthy now, and looking forward to competing for a spot.”
Mechanically speaking, Kingham did not make any drastic changes. “Nothing too crazy,” he began after I asked him about any mechanical changes. “It’s more about being aware of what’s going on with my arm through every phase of the delivery.”
After 10 starts, Kingham feels that he had enough outings to get his feel back, as his 2.93 ERA and 6.0 combined strikeout-to-walk ratio from those 10 starts shows. Whether it was at A-level ball, or at Double-A Altoona where he ended his season, Kingham feels that the spate of starts was highly worthwhile.
“I got enough.” he said.
Gets By With a Little Help From his Friends
Much has been written about the relationship between Kingham and Taillon. Hearing Kingham talk about Taillon’s effect on his rehab, it becomes easy to see why.
That relationship does not preclude some friendly competition from shining through.
“There will always be a friendly competition [with Taillon],” Kingham said. “Seeing what he did last year…I want to follow in his footsteps. I want to do the same thing he did. It was big to have him walk me through his process of coming back.”
The comfort that Kingham finds from Taillon’s experience shines through mostly in the form of emotional support. “It’s mostly the mentality side of things.” the 25 year-old told me. “It was especially when it first started; he could tell me what to expect, and when this will happen and when that would happen…he and Justin Topa, my roommate in Florida who is now going through his second one.”
Topa may be a name unfamiliar to Pittsburgh Pirates fans. Drafted in the 17th round by the team in the 2013 draft, Topa’s two TJ surgeries show that the ailment does not discriminate. His relationship with Kingham has had an immense effect on getting through the shared misery of the injury.
“I have a lot of good guys in my corner.” Kingham said.
Chomping At the Bit To Face Certain Hitters
When asked who he couldn’t wait to face in the major leagues, Kingham had a quick answer at the ready.
Indeed, Harper, Kingham and Bryant are all Las Vegas products, which has put out its fair share of major league talent over the last several years. With the Pittsburgh Pirates set to battle Bryant and the rest of the Cubs for the foreseeable future, Kingham may become re-acquainted with the 2016 NL MVP quicker than he may think.
We ended our time with Kingham by asking him what advice he might give to any pitcher having to face what he has faced.
“Don’t be scared to talk to someone about it.” Kingham began. “You can catch it early. But in the long run, if you’re elbow is gonna go, it’s gonna go. It’s part of the game. Minimize it as much as you can in the training room.”
The Full Interview
Here now is the full interview from our podcast feed. NOTE: Nick had some severe cell phone service issues that plagued the call at times. Just like he has done through his TJ ordeal, Kingham soldiered through.