Kang returns ahead of uncertain offseason

Infielder logs pinch-hit single in 1st AB; Bucs hold $5.5M option for '19

September 28th, 2018

CINCINNATI -- After nearly two years, returned to the Pirates clubhouse on Friday afternoon.

The Pirates promoted Kang for the final three games of the season, giving him a second chance before an uncertain offseason. Kang admittedly felt nervous on Friday after missing all of the 2017 season -- when he was unable to acquire a work visa -- and most of this season due to a combination of his visa issue and injuries.

Kang entered Friday's 8-4 win over the Reds as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning and laced a leadoff single. He advanced to third on 's one-out double, but the Pirates were unable to bring him home.

"There was a small uproar [in the dugout] when he got the base hit," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You could hear it."

"Last night I had trouble sleeping, with a lot of mixed emotions and excitement," Kang said through interpreter Mark Kim. "Just wanted to get back here and see my teammates and staff, the coaching staff. Everyone's been really generous in welcoming me back today, so it's been great so far."

Kang previously took responsibility for the actions that led to his extended absence and said on Friday he is continuing and "honoring" the treatment program recommended jointly by MLB and the MLB Players Association following his December 2016 DUI arrest in South Korea.

"I've had a lot of time for self-reflection and just to think about what I've done and how I've lived my life so far," Kang said. "I think it's still in the process of gathering information and learning about myself, and I think I'll probably feel a lot more and learn more after the games are finished this series."

Kang said the Pirates have been welcoming in his return to the Majors. He chatted with a number of different teammates -- some of whom weren't around when he played his last game for Pittsburgh on Oct. 2, 2016 -- while swatting balls into the seats during batting practice on Friday afternoon.

Hurdle said Kang "may" start one game this weekend.

"He worked hard to try and put himself in position to come back before the season ended," Hurdle said. "I think we want to honor the responsibility and the work that he put in to get back here."

How Kang performs will not affect the Pirates' evaluation of him moving forward, general manager Neal Huntington said on Thursday, nor will it sway their decision to exercise or decline his $5.5 million club option this offseason.

Kang had been playing instructional league games in Bradenton, Fla., after undergoing surgery on his left wrist on Aug. 3. Kang said he jammed his wrist while attempting to steal second base in a game for Triple-A Indianapolis.

"At first I thought it was an easy fix and I thought I'd be able to get back on the field pretty soon, but obviously it took a lot longer and was a much more painful process than I anticipated originally," Kang said. "I thought it might put me out for the season, but I'm just grateful and I feel lucky to be back here to even just get a few at-bats before the end of the season."

What comes next is unclear. Kang's visa will allow him to remain in the United States through December, he said. He said he will probably return to Pittsburgh after Sunday's season finale but hasn't set any plans beyond that.

It seems unlikely that the Pirates will exercise Kang's option, but they could attempt to re-sign him as a free agent to a deal with a lower guaranteed salary. Kang said he hasn't thought about his future beyond this weekend.

"Neal's going to have conversations with [Kang's] agent," Hurdle said. "We've had conversations that have obviously gained some traction in the last week with Jung Ho to find out where he is, what this is going to be like because we wanted to make sure there's no surprises. I think it's just going to be an interesting exercise and an interesting relationship to see where it goes and how it goes."