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Pirates pregame chatter: Kingham, Tucker, more


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Nick Kingham – MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The Pirates' 2019 season is off to a roller-coaster start. The team rocketed out of the gates to a 12-6, first-place start, then they stumbled and dropped eight straight. Even within the team's current series vs. the Athletics, the Pirates have been wildly inconsistent, losing 14-1 then bouncing back with a tough 6-4 win in Game 2 of the three-game tilt.

Through it all, there's been one constant: Injuries.

When Jameson Taillon landed on the 10-day IL with a strained elbow tendon Saturday, he became the 17th different player to do so in the Pirates’ first 30 games. This has resulted in some good — Bryan Reynolds' emergence as a steady bat and a solid glove — and some bad — Colin Moran getting forced into left field, for starters.

Most recently, though, it's granted opportunity for relief pitchers Steven Brault and Nick Kingham, who will enter the starting rotation for the first time this season, taking the hill against the Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"From a player's perspective, when an opportunity presents itself, you move," Clint Hurdle told media members today in his office at PNC Park. "You don't feel happy about it, but it's there and you move upon and you see where you can take it. You feel bad for the guys that are out. But then, nobody else is going to feel bad for us. Oakland doesn't feel bad for us. They have an opportunity to step up and help, and I think that's where their focus is and that's where it should be."

The sentiment was shared by Kingham, who battled through spring training for the fifth starter's position but ultimately lost to Jordan Lyles. Now given his chance, he doesn't intend to squander it.

He'll get his chance Wednesday, May 8, while Brault takes the mound Tuesday, May 7.

Two minutes with Cole Tucker? Why not? I finally got the chance to talk with the rookie shortstop, and, yeah, he's pretty much as likable as you expect. The guy exudes positivity, and it's clear he's genuinely cherishing his opportunity in the big leagues.

Jung Ho Kang has frustrated Pirates fans early this year, and even though Hurdle made it clear his performance is not up to par thus far in 2019, he maintained the team is sticking behind him and helping him through his struggles.

"We're watching what we're watching. We're seeing what we see. We're showing him what we see, where the challenges have come offensively," Hurdle said.  "The defensive work has been OK. He had a couple throwing errors the other day, but once we looked at the video, it was more the footwork — the one play was more the footwork, the other play was just an off throw. The bat, as far as exit velocity when it's hit, it's good. We're not hitting it enough. Pretty simple. Too much swing-and-miss right now."

For Kang in particular, Hurdle said it's "uncharted territory" for him, given Kang's long layoff and previous history of success.

"I've never had a player that's been out a year and a half and come back and had some of the history that he had as far as hard contact, power, hand-eye, so we're just trying to help him find his way back," Hurdle said. "And we're not trying to overcook it by any means, trying to keep it simple for him, because it's hard for him as well. He wants to do way better than what's going on, so we are showing some patience and continuing to give him some opportunities where maybe some adrenaline can kick, a leverage opportunity where a hit could really spark something significant."

Moran, who has filled in at third base throughout this season, wasn't let off the hook either.

"And then we've got to pay attention to what we need from the offense as well," Hurdle continued. "Moran's come in, he started off hot, he tabled a little bit, and hopefully he can come back and give us a shot in the arm as well, so the combination of the two can at least give us some average numbers over there right now, which they're not."

• The key to connecting with Kang? For Hurdle and company, it's simple. They sit him down, have a human conversation, use the interpreter and keep the messaging simple. They are not overreacting to Kang's struggles, but it's clear they're keeping a close eye on his performance.

Hurdle got into the clubhouse a bit later today because of the Pittsburgh Marathon and hadn't seen Keone Kela. He had no update on Kela's status for today or beyond.

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