Nick Kingham's ERA climbed to a season-high 5.16 just over two weeks ago. He has been imposing his will on hitters ever since.
The Pirates' No. 9 prospect scattered three hits over 7 2/3 innings on Friday as Triple-A Indianapolis blanked Louisville, 1-0, at Louisville Slugger Field. The right-hander walked three and struck out two en route to winning his third straight start.
"I kind of felt like I was the enforcer," he said. "It was a game of chess going back and forth and I was dictating what happened within the at-bat."
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Kingham (6-6) was in the driver's seat from the outset as he faced one over the minimum through three frames. The fourth provided the most trouble. Tyler Goeddel led off with a single and Sebastian Elizalde reached on a catcher's interference call one pitch later, but Kingham got Brandon Dixon to ground into a double play. After walking Eric Jagielo and hitting Alex Blandino with a pitch to load the bases, the 2010 fourth-rounder struck out Chad Wallach on four pitches to end the threat.
"I knew they were going to be swinging and they were going to be aggressive, so I was trying to make the best pitches I could to try and have them put the ball in play as weakly as possible and let my defense take care of it," Kingham said. "After they turned that double play, I knew it was up to me to get that last guy out."
Video: Indians' Kingham gets a strikeout
The 25-year-old cruised through the next three frames, allowing only a two-out double to Wallach in the seventh. The Houston native recorded the first two outs of the eighth, but a walk to Goeddel ended his night. Kingham threw 61 of 97 pitches for strikes.
It was Kingham's longest start since going eight innings for the Indians on Aug. 18, 2014, against the Bats. The Nevada high school product induced 12 groundouts, thanks to a live fastball.
"My fastball kind of carried me through the first four, five, almost six innings, I feel like," he said. "Didn't really have to throw many off-speed pitches because they were swinging at the fastball and putting the ball in play, and my defense behind me was making the plays."
Kingham improved to 3-0 in his last three starts. Over 21 2/3 frames during his winning streak, Kingham has yielded one run on 19 hits with three walks and 13 strikeouts. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound hurler reduced his ERA to 4.00, its lowest point since it was 3.63 on June 3.
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Entering the stretch run of his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2015, Kingham remains far from satisfied.
"I think it's the opposite," he said. "I think when you go out and you do well, it puts a little more pressure on your next outing to match it or better it. I feel like I've had some good outings previously and recently, so I think I want to pick that up and just pick up where I left off [next outing]."
Dan Runzler recorded the final four outs to notch his fourth save.
Louisville starter Cody Reed (4-7) surrendered one run on five hits and four walks with five strikeouts over seven frames.