4 pitchers vying to fill 5th spot in Pirates' rotation
The next move is figuring out who will take the fifth slot after Ivan Nova was traded to the Chicago White Sox in the offseason. Four pitchers are contending for the job: left-hander Steven Brault and right-handers Nick Kingham, Jordan Lyles and Rookie Davis.
Brault and Kingham both pitched two scoreless innings in their first starts of the exhibition season while Lyles allowed one run in two innings. Davis has yet to pitch as he signed a minor league contract Feb. 18, a week after pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.
Brault had made 16 starts and 48 relief appearances for the Pirates over the last three seasons, going 7-6 with a 4.68 ERA. He was the International League Pitcher of the Year in 2016 at Triple-A Indianapolis but has yet to gain a foothold in the major leagues.
During the offseason, Brault overhauled his pitching mechanics and altered his throwing program. He then threw 19 of his 23 pitches for strikes against the Philadelphia Phillies last Saturday.
"You take all that time in the offseason and you obviously want to do well," Brault said. "It doesn't mean everything was perfect or anything like that. It's just one outing. But it's nice to get the results I want. It's a step in the right direction."
Kingham's career started off in the right direction when he made his major league debut last April 29 and retired the first 20 batters on his way to beating the St. Louis Cardinals. He faded as the season wore on, however, and finished with a 5-7 record and 5.21 ERA in 18 games, including 15 starts.
What could help Kingham's cause is that he is out of minor league options. The Pirates would need to expose him to waivers if they try to send him down.
Kingham, 27, realizes it is too early to get too excited about one start but was pleased to begin the exhibition season with a solid effort against the Miami Marlins.
"I think any impression you make is going to stand on its own until your next one," Kingham said. "Anytime you go out to the mound, you want to make a good impression. It might be the last one you get, so you always want to be good and you always want to leave a good impression in the coaches' minds, and the decision-makers'."
Signed to a $2.05 million, one-year contract as a free agent in the offseason, Lyles is the most experienced of the four candidates. The 28-year-old has pitched for the Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers in his eight-year career, compiling a 31-52 record and 5.28 ERA.
"You just continue to do what you think is best to get major league hitters out," Lyles said. "Obviously, you're trying to get outs. Nobody is going to stand out there on the mound and say, 'Here's the ball, hit it.' Not giving up runs is the No. 1 goal obviously, but I'm also looking to work on things and find the right spots to work on them."
The Pirates have yet to schedule Davis' first game appearance, though he pitched two innings in a simulated game Tuesday. The 25-year-old made his major league debut with Cincinnati in 2017 by making six starts but spent last season in the Reds' farm system after recovering from hip surgery.