CHICAGO -- A few days before Jung Ho Kang played a starring role in a 2-1 Pirates victory against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, manager Clint Hurdle was in his office raving about Kang's meaning to the team.
Kang came to the Pirates before last season with plenty of fanfare, but Hurdle tried not to set expectations.
"With my experience in the game and just the years I have, if you create expectations, more often than not, they lead to resentments," Hurdle said. "I found it best in my dealings with players to don't even put that on them. Let them have the chalkboard, let them write on it, let them show you what they can do, give them the opportunities. You listen to them, you watch them, they tell you who they are and they tell you what they are."
Early on, Kang showed the entire league he was a player who belonged in the Majors. And he just keeps adding to that reputation.
Sunday, in only his eighth game since returning from a major knee operation, Kang had a tiebreaking seventh-inning RBI double and a ninth-inning home run, driving in both of the Pirates' runs in their first victory in six games against the Cubs this season.
"I'm impressed to the degree that this is a special guy, so when he does things, it's not like I'm one who says, 'That's unbelievable,'" Hurdle said. "No, it's believable. He keeps doing things that shows you that he's a quality ballplayer, and he has a great feel for the game."
Kang almost wasn't in the lineup Sunday. Since his return, the Pirates have played him on a two-on, one-off schedule. But Hurdle and the Pirates staff decided Kang would be able to go three straight Sunday. Turned out to be great decision.
"Tipping-point situations, he's shown the ability to get things done there swinging the bat," Hurdle said. "He laid out, diving play at third, as well, today. We gave him the opportunity to play three days in a row, and I thought he played really well."
Kang said through an interpreter he felt good going three days in a row, though Hurdle mentioned that might not happen every time going forward.
But Kang has proved tough to keep out of the lineup. His double Sunday allowed the Pirates to score off a stingy Jon Lester. His homer off Hector Rondon provided a needed insurance run. In his eight games this season, Kang has four home runs, and six of his seven total hits have been for extra bases.
"I think we're still feeling [his impact]," Hurdle said. "He's an above-average defender. That's a leverage bat in your lineup. The chemistry of the club is enhanced. He adds value to everything he does and everything we do together."