YOU wouldn’t think that a pitcher whose major league debut saw him retire the first 20 batters he faced might be tabbed as the team’s number one starter.

That pitcher would be Nick Kingham, who had the taxi driver who dropped him off on April 29 waiting outside to drive him back to AAA Indianapolis after his one-game call-up brought about by rescheduling.

But a funny thing happened at PNC Park, when he ended his 7-inning performance allowing just one hit to the team’s arch-nemesis St. Louis Cardinals.

Manager Clint Hurdle announced after the 5-0 win that Kingham was going nowhere except to Milwaukee where he started his second game last Saturday. For five innings, Kingham was as dominant in his second start as he allowed one run on three hits through the first five innings. But the Brewers scored three runs in the sixth and Kingham left with his team ahead 5-4 in an eventual 6-4 Pirates win.

So in his first seven days in the bigs, Kingham started two games against division opponents. In 12.1 innings, he registered 16 strikeouts, while giving up just seven hits and one walk. He was 2-0, with as many wins as other starters Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, and Steven Brault, all of whom have been with the Bucs all season.

So two days ago the Pirates announced that the 26-year-old right-hander was being sent back to Indy.

Like it or not, the Pirates rate Taillon, Nova, Trevor Williams, and Chad Kuhl as the team’s top four starters, with Kingham left as number five.

It’s hard to base any person’s value to a team on just two performances, no matter how impressive that pitcher may have been.

The truth is that each of the Pirates’ starters has had at least one game where their dominance was overwhelming.

But there also have been games where “struggling” has been the word of the day.

Going into the season, the Pirates starting rotation was believed to have all the potential in the world. At times they have shown the reasons for such a feeling. But they also have shown the reasons nobody is considering them as potential Cy Young candidates.

Still, Pittsburgh has surprised the baseball world, including some Pirates fans who act as though they are disappointed that the team looks as though it could make the season an interesting one.

For that to happen, the pitchers need to demonstrate more consistency. If they do, they could—notice I said could—become the best Pittsburgh rotation since the early 1990s.

Joe Musgrove is getting closer to vacating the disabled list, and the Pirates having four scheduled off-days through May 21. Four starters are plenty.

And so Kingham was sent back to Indianapolis to stay on a starting schedule, with the Bucs’ pitching staff reduced from 13 to 12 players for the first time all season.

The team said that Jose Osuna was expected to join the Pirates before last night’s game with the White Sox, expanding the team’s current bench of David Freese, Sean Rodriguez, Max Moroff, and Elias Diaz.

Osuna, whose best position is batter, has been one of AAA’s top hitters this season. April’s International League Player of the Month has hit .359 in 23 games, socking three home runs and driving in 18 RBIs.

Although he played 17 of those 23 games at third base, he is expected to be used in right field in place of the drooping Gregory Polanco, whose fast start has been wiped out by a month of an average below .200.

You might recall that Osuna was with the Pirates for one day on April 25, as baseball’s MLB rules now allow the 26th man for a doubleheader. He started the second game against Detroit. He went 2-for-4, including a three run home in his first at-bat.

He was rewarded by being returned to the minors later after that game.

It has to be frustrating. Just ask Nick Kingham.

JIM SANKEY is a baseball columnist for Allied News.

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