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Kang reportedly released by winter ball club

MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- Jung Ho Kang has been released by his Dominican Winter League team, according to a Yonhap News Agency report.

Kang hit .143 with a .421 OPS and 31 strikeouts in 24 games for Aguilas Cibaenas. He began his stint in the Dominican Republic as the team's cleanup hitter, but as he continued to struggle, he was bumped down the lineup and eventually was benched. Kang's last game was Wednesday, when he went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts.

PITTSBURGH -- Jung Ho Kang has been released by his Dominican Winter League team, according to a Yonhap News Agency report.

Kang hit .143 with a .421 OPS and 31 strikeouts in 24 games for Aguilas Cibaenas. He began his stint in the Dominican Republic as the team's cleanup hitter, but as he continued to struggle, he was bumped down the lineup and eventually was benched. Kang's last game was Wednesday, when he went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts.

This comes as disappointing news for the Pirates, who hoped to see Kang play winter ball as long as he was able after he was granted an exemption by MLB and the MLB Players Association to participate in winter ball while remaining on their restricted list. But it is no surprise that the third baseman looked rusty at the plate considering he had not played in a game since October 2016.

Kang did not play in the Majors in 2017 following an offseason DUI arrest in his native South Korea, reportedly his third such charge since '09. The Pirates planned to use this time to evaluate Kang in a more organized setting. The Dominican Winter League is a competitive atmosphere, however, and Aguilas Cibaenas reportedly decided to cut ties with the scuffling Kang after 84 at-bats.

The move does not affect Kang's status with Pittsburgh. He remains on the restricted list, unpaid and not occupying a spot on the Pirates' 40-man roster after being denied a work visa earlier this year. He is under contract for 2018 with a club option for '19.

Kang, 30, hit .273/.355/.483 with 36 home runs for the Pirates in 2015-16. General manager Neal Huntington has said the Bucs are hopeful that Kang will return next season, but they will prepare as if he won't be back.

"While we have a lot of work to do on why he's in this situation, we believe we can help him, and we believe that player can help us," Huntington told MLB.com at the General Managers Meetings. "We'll get to a point in the offseason where we've got to plan without Kang, then if he is able to get into the country, that's a bonus for us. If he doesn't get in, then we haven't lost anything."

Without Kang, David Freese would likely return as the primary starter at third base and split time with second baseman Josh Harrison and utility men Sean Rodriguez, Adam Frazier and Max Moroff.

Osuna debuts at third
Fresh off his rookie season in Pittsburgh, Jose Osuna is now playing winter ball in Venezuela -- at a new position.

Osuna is 4-for-23 and has committed two errors in six games for Bravos de Margarita, half of them at third base. Primarily used as a pinch-hitter, the 24-year-old Osuna posted a .233/.269/.428 slash line in 227 plate appearances for the Pirates this year, while also playing first base and the outfield.

"We're pleased he wanted to go down there and work on [third base]," Huntington said. "We were talking about it, and he initiated it. Adding to his versatility, we love the offense, and we love the young man. If he can become serviceable at third base, it adds another weapon for [manager Clint Hurdle]."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jung Ho Kang