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Taking next step, Kang to play in Class A games

MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates announced Thursday morning that Jung Ho Kang would begin game competition with Class A Advanced Bradenton on Friday. Kang hasn't played organized baseball for the Pirates since 2016.

Kang, 31, was forced to miss the 2017 season following his third DUI arrest in South Korea in December '16. Kang was not permitted to enter the U.S. until he was issued a work visa in late April. 

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ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates announced Thursday morning that Jung Ho Kang would begin game competition with Class A Advanced Bradenton on Friday. Kang hasn't played organized baseball for the Pirates since 2016.

Kang, 31, was forced to miss the 2017 season following his third DUI arrest in South Korea in December '16. Kang was not permitted to enter the U.S. until he was issued a work visa in late April. 

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Manager Clint Hurdle hasn't gotten the chance to see Kang play yet, but spoke with field coordinators Brad Fischer and Gary Green about his progress.

"He's done the work he needs to do in extended spring," Hurdle said. "And let's remind everyone, extended spring is the lowest level of baseball. It's chain-linked baseball, so now we're actually going to move up with games, competition and another uniform."

Hurdle said Kang's swing has gotten better and he's been playing at shortstop, but still hasn't faced the fatigue of back-to-back games or competitive at-bats.

"That part was the most challenging part for him initially, just getting back in the level of competition," Hurdle said.

Kang is expected to address the Pittsburgh media next week for the first time since his arrest.

Crick emerging in bullpen
Kyle Crick gave the Pirates a crucial inning of relief in a 2-1 victory over the Cubs on Wednesday. Pittsburgh entered the day on a four-game skid, where two of the losses came from blown saves in the final three innings. Hurdle and the Bucs are trying to keep Felipe Vazquez focused on the challenges of closing games. Hurdle said he doesn't expect, or need, Vazquez to take on any sort of leadership role in the bullpen, just to get outs and save games.

Setup man Michael Feliz has given up nine runs in his last four outings. The more Feliz struggles, the more innings Crick could see.

Crick was called up by the Pirates in mid-April after not making the Opening Day roster and has allowed just four earned runs in 17 2/3 innings. Crick played for the Giants in 2017, which he said was a contrasting experience age-wise due to the amount of veterans on the San Francisco staff. Playing around a younger Pirates bullpen has helped him settle in.

Video: PIT@CIN: Crick notches the save in the 12th

"[Playing for the Pirates] is a unique feel and a different environment for sure," Crick said. "Last year I was around some veteran players and the bullpen was very segmented in what innings would be pitched, but it's been a pretty free year."

Throwing a two-seam fastball has also helped Crick this season. That pitch has diversified the movement his pitches give, opening his options on the mound. The two-seamer, Hurdle said, is becoming more rare.

"Today's game, it's kind of funny because you'll hear a lot of theories that the two-seamer has gone away," Hurdle said. "I think the guys that didn't throw good ones stopped throwing good ones and throw more four-seamers. Some guys that threw four-seamers now throw a two-seamer and feel like, 'Wait, that thing moves pretty good.' I think Kyle falls into that category, where you think, 'This is a pitch that's usable for me."'

Crick's increasing versatility gives Hurdle and the Pirates options going forward. If Feliz continues to struggle, Crick could slide into a more prominent role.  

Sean Collins is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Louis.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jung Ho Kang