Kang continues adjustment process in Majors
Infielder does homework against starters, but pitchers respond in kind
WASHINGTON -- When Jung Ho Kang stepped into the batter's box Friday night for his first look at Nationals right-hander Joe Ross and lined a crisp single up the middle, it was a familiar sight.
When Ross struck out Kang the next two times they met, that, too, was a familiar sight. Kang is becoming renowned for how intensely he prepares -- tape, scouting reports, first-person advice -- for pitchers the Korean obviously has never seen before. But those pitchers seem to do their own in-game homework, too.
In his first at-bats against starters, Kang took a .421 average (16-for-38) into the Saturday afternoon run-in with Max Scherzer. In subsequent at-bats, the same starters had a 13-for-61 upper hand (.213) over Kang.
"I'm not going to tell you how they're doing it. There might be some teams that aren't onto it," said manager Clint Hurdle. "But changes are being made right now, as we speak, 60-some games into the season.
"There are in-game adjustments from pitchers, from pitching coaches. They look at the swing, watch what he's doing, and try to find ways to counter-punch."
Much of the counter-punch's wallop seems concentrated in pitching "backwards" against Kang, i.e. throwing offspeed stuff in fastball situations. Kang is very aggressive against correctly-anticipated fastballs -- he is a .625 (10-for-16) hitter when putting the first pitch into play. But the same timing mechanism behind that success -- his exaggerated leg kick -- becomes a liability against breaking balls.
Recognizing that, Kang has started to eliminate that leg kick when he has two strikes against him -- when pitchers are most likely to go offspeed.
"The two-strike approach doesn't always have to be used only with two strikes," Hurdle reasoned. "His challenge is always going to be the leg kick. A leg kick is basically saying, 'I can hit your fastball.' That's what it's all about. He's trying to find a touch and feel for [when to abandon the leg kick]. As at-bats go on, his swings that get complicated are the ones with the leg kick, and he's already learning there will be at-bats later in games when he should kick it to the curb.
"That's something he hasn't yet done, and probably isn't real comfortable with."