Cubs pound Nick Kingham, push Pirates 7 games out of 1st place

August 6, 2018
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Pirates pitcher Nick Kingham throws during the first inning against the Cubs Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018, at PNC Park.

If you were wondering why the Pirates traded for Chris Archer, the 9-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night at PNC Park provided all the evidence necessary.

Nick Kingham, the rookie starter who probably will lose his spot in the starting rotation to Archer, lasted only one inning, throwing 51 pitches in front of a crowd of 18,600. He allowed four runs (two earned) and three hits. But that wasn’t the worst of his efforts. Kingham had four other moments of misfortune, recording a walk, hit batsman, throwing error and wild pitch -- all in one inning.

He had the Cubs’ Javier Baez caught between second and third base for what looked like a sure out, but he threw the ball far over third baseman David Freese’s head. Of course, Baez wouldn’t have been on base if second baseman Sean Rodriguez hadn’t muffed his groundball.

“The overall execution wasn’t what we’ve seen from him in the past,” manager Clint Hurdle said of Kingham, whose record fell to 5-6.

With relief pitcher Keone Kela still on his way from Texas after Tuesday’s trade, Hurdle needed three bullpen arms to get though the game. Those relief pitchers struggled, led by Steven Brault, who was the first to relieve Kingham. Brault walked five batters (one intentional) in three innings.

“When you look at a guy who has five walks and one strikeout, it’s tough,” Hurdle said.

Alex McRae made his major league debut and allowed one run in three innings. “It was a hard night to make his debut,” Hurdle said, “and he did a good job of it.”

Rich Rodriguez didn’t walk a batter, but he gave up four hits and two runs.

Overall, Pirates pitchers suffered from a lack of command, throwing 200 pitches, only 120 for strikes.

“We threw too many pitches. It’s no doubt,” Hurdle said.

The Pirates are hoping - actually, counting on - Archer to relieve some of their pitching problems. But he’s not a hitter, so he can’t solve a problem that has surfaced during a recent run of injuries.

It didn’t help that the Cubs used veteran left-handed starting pitcher Cole Hamels, who was recently acquired in a trade with the Texas Rangers.

Hamels faced a lineup that included three batters hitting below the Mendoza line - Jordan Luplow (.171), Jose Osuna (.172) and Rodriguez (.164). By comparison, Brault finished the game with a higher batting average (.188). Luplow and Osuna were a combined 0 for 8 while replacing injured left fielder Corey Dickerson (left hamstring) and first baseman Josh Bell (oblique).

Also, the Pirates are closely monitoring second baseman Josh Harrison’s hamstring. He was replaced by Rodriguez, who struck out four times.

“Tough evening for sure (for Rodriguez),” Hurdle said. “We’ve seen a little bit more of that. He’s working to try to figure some things out and we’re trying to give him an opportunity to figure some things out.”

Help could be on way by the weekend. Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said Dickerson is eligible to come off the disabled list Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“We’re still aiming for that at this point in time,” Tomczyk said.

He said Bell is improving every day, but he’s not eligible to play again until Tuesday in Colorado.

The fourth loss in the past seven games pushed the Pirates (56-53) seven games behind the National League Central-leading Cubs.

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