After losing most of two seasons to Tommy John surgery and the opening month of 2017 to an ankle issue, Nick Kingham is glad to be back on a mound again.
He proved it with his performance Thursday.
Pittsburgh's No. 7 prospect gave up one hit over five innings to help Class A Advanced Bradenton post a 5-1 victory over Palm Beach at LECOM Park. Kingham was efficient, throwing 46 of 68 pitches for strikes.
Gameday box score
"It's definitely not ideal dealing with all the injuries," the right-hander said. "It's something that happens though, a part of the game -- just have to take care of your body, stay as healthy as you can and perform when the opportunities present themselves. ... It's nice to get back into competitive baseball again where things actually matter, not just pitching down in the [Rookie-level Gulf Coast League]."
Kingham (1-0) was perfect through two innings before second baseman Mitchell Tolman's fielding error allowed leadoff man Jeremy Martinez to reach in the third. The Houston native induced a fielder's choice from Shane Billings and ended the inning by getting Juan Herrera to bounce into a double play.
Video: Bradenton's Kingham finishes fifth in return
The 2010 fourth-round pick retired the side in order in the fourth before allowing a leadoff single to Danny Diekroeger in the fifth. Diekroeger advanced to second on a groundout, but Kingham got Luke Dykstra to line out to first base and Martinez to ground out to cap his season debut.
"I just got ahead of guys, attacked with the fastball and used both sides of the plate," Kingham said. "They were putting balls in play and I had good defense behind me. It was just huge tonight that my defense took some hits away."
Kingham didn't record a strikeout, and while he's never been a big strikeout guy -- he entered the season with 497 career whiffs in 580 2/3 innings -- this was the first time he failed to strike out at least one hitter in a start that lasted at least two innings since Aug. 17, 2011 with Class A Short Season State College.
"Maybe they know I'm a strike-thrower, so they were going to be attacking early and putting balls in play," Kingham said. "I had a few two-strike counts and couldn't put them away. I threw a few below the zone and they didn't bite. [They put] lots of balls in play early and I didn't get in many strikeout situations."
The 25-year-old showed little rust in his return and continued to employ the same strategy of pounding the strike zone that made him successful prior to his surgery. After spending so much time on the sidelines the past two years, he has extra perspective on how effective that approach can be.
"The biggest thing I learned is realizing that I don't have to force things and things will happen if you let them," Kingham said. "Don't try to force the guy to get out. Hitting is hard and they'll get themselves out more often than we will. Just trust your work that led up to the outing, go out there and compete."
Kingham is set to head north for his next start, which will be at Triple-A Indianapolis -- a place where he enjoyed success during his first stints in 2014 and 2015.
"[My goal is to] pick up right where I left off back in Triple-A," he said. "I was throwing the ball well in 2014 when I got there. In 2015, I got off to a shaky start, but I want to continue throwing the ball over the plate, attack hitters and maybe I get the call to go up to Pittsburgh. That's the ultimate goal and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen."
Logan Hill had two doubles, a single and two runs scored, and Casey Hughston went 2-for-4 with an RBI triple and two runs for the Marauders.
Derian Gonzalez (0-5) allowed four runs on five hits and four walks while striking out three in three innings for the Cardinals.