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Minor League Report: Bradenton's Kingham earns more than just 1st win

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 11:24 p.m.
Paul Videla | Bradenton Herald
Bradenton's Nick Kingham pitches against the Jupiter Hammerheads on Monday, April 22, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Nick Kingham's first victory as a Bradenton Marauder came with a bonus:

A lesson on how to overcome early trouble.

Kingham allowed a first-inning run for the first time this season Monday, when he spotted the Jupiter Hammerheads a 2-0 lead. But Kingham righted himself, blanking Jupiter over the next four innings and earning his first victory in High Single-A.

“It makes me feel like I understand myself a little bit better, even though I got some things going on and I'm struggling a little bit,” said Kingham, who struck out six and walked none in five innings of the Marauders' 5-3 win. “I was able to find myself, and I know what my strengths are, and I just try and use that to my abilities.”

Kingham showed similar moxie later in the game when he answered the Marauders' four-run third inning with a perfect top of the fourth.

“From a pitcher's standpoint, shutdown innings are crucial,” he said, “especially when we score, to put a zero up the very next inning. It shuts them down and keeps our momentum going.”

The Pirates' fourth-round draft pick in 2010, Kingham took a 1-2 record and a 3.92 ERA into Sunday night's start against Brevard County. Control has been a strength for the 21-year-old right-hander: In 20 23 innings, he has struck out 20 and walked four.

Hanson heating up

Following a slow start, shortstop Alen Hanson has become a force atop Bradenton's lineup, hitting .310 with a .383 on-base percentage in his last 10 games.

But there is room for improvement.

The left-handed-swinging Hanson is hitting .194 in 31 at-bats against southpaws, and as the team's leadoff hitter, he is batting .235 in 51 at-bats with the bases empty.

Hanson also has committed 13 errors in 17 games at short, but that's a team-wide epidemic: Bradenton's 35 errors and .955 fielding percentage are the worst in the Florida State League.

No letdown for Polanco

Gregory Polanco, the Pirates' Minor League Player of the Year, has been as good as advertised, batting .347 with 11 RBI in the Marauders' first 19 games.

Polanco entered Saturday's game against St. Lucie ranked first in the league in steals (nine) and is 8 for 20 (.400) with runners in scoring position, just want you want to see from your No. 3 hitter.

Launching pad

The Marauders' home park isn't too kind to pitchers, according to a study done by Baseball America.

McKechnie Field, which has served as the Pirates' spring home since 1969 and the Marauders' only field since their inception in 2010, allowed an average of 9.98 runs per game from 2010-12, which was tops in the 12-team Florida State League. The report also showed McKechnie was second in the league in hits (17.59) and home runs (1.44) per game.

While those numbers could be traced to the ballpark's personnel, McKechnie Field is vulnerable to swirling, powerful winds thanks to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. It isn't strange to see the flags high atop the batter's eye in center field blowing straight away from home plate.

By contrast, Double-A Altoona's Peoples Natural Gas Field allowed 8.15 runs per game, ranking it 11th out of 12 teams in the Eastern League.

So that's just another reason Bradenton pitchers wouldn't mind a bump to Double-A.

John Lembo is a freelance writer.

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