Bradenton right-hander Nick Kingham got a clear directive from the Marauders coaching staff prior to his start on Sunday: Throw more changeups.
So he threw a few in the first inning and struck out the side. He threw a few more in the second and even more as the game went on. Brevard County kept swinging and missing and, by game's end, the public address announcer informed the crowd at McKechnie Field that Kingham had set a franchise record.
The Pirates' No. 13 prospect struck out a career-high 13 batters, allowing only three hits over six scoreless innings as Bradenton beat visiting Brevard County, 4-1.
"I was told to throw more changeups tonight when the opportunity presented itself," he said. "I was told to just throw it out there and see what it can do. That was a key in tonight's start."
The 21-year-old right-hander had gotten by this season mostly with his fastball and curveball. His heater already is an above-average offering that can reach the mid-90s range, and Kingham (2-2) described the curve as his "strikeout pitch."
And while he made progress with the changeup last year, the offering was still lagging behind the heater and the breaking ball.
"I'd shied away from it in recent starts," he said. "I felt like it was something I needed to implement more in my starts."
Kingham (2-2) estimated he threw the offering around 20 times Sunday, an atypically high percentage of his 81 pitches.
The showdown was the first this year between the Manatees and Marauders, so Kingham went in without much of a scouting report. The Las Vegas native got each of the first three hitters swinging and recorded at least two strikeouts in every inning thereafter. He allowed consecutive singles to start the second but got a flyout and two more swinging punchouts to escape the jam.
Kingham allowed another hit in the sixth but sandwiched two more strikeouts around a fly ball against the top of the order to complete his gem.
The strikeout of Brandon Macias in the sixth broke the previous team record of Matt McSwain, who fanned 11 on April 18, 2011.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 Draft, Kingham lowered his ERA to 3.04 and has 33 strikeouts against four walks over 26 2/3 innings. He registered 117 punchouts and walked 36 over 127 innings last year with Class A West Virginia. And despite a 4.39 ERA, he left the Pirates optimistic, particularly when he closed the season with a 1.68 ERA over his final nine starts.
Kingham said the results were mostly encouraged by mental adjustments. He'd found himself occasionally passive, lacking trust in his stuff and pitching around too many hitters. He started going after the strike zone with a little more fervor and when that started working, he found the confidence to be that much more aggressive. The results and his confidence began to snowball, and now Kingham thinks he's made some notable strides in his mental approach on the hill.
"It's that mentality to attack hitters, to say, 'Here's my pitch. Hit it,'" he said. "Earlier, I would try to be too perfect and too fine against hitters. I would try to throw that perfect pitch rather than just execute down in the zone.
"I feel like the biggest thing is attacking hitters and getting ahead. It opens up what I can do the rest of the at-bat and game."
Zac Fuesser followed Kingham and gave up a run on four hits in 2 1/3 innings before Emmanuel De Leon recorded the final two outs for his first save. Jose Osuna, Willy Garcia and Taylor Lewis each had two hits and an RBI for Bradenton.