Kang ready to begin rehab assignment

April 17th, 2016
Jung Ho Kang will begin his rehab assignment on Tuesday at Triple-A Indianapolis. (Getty)

PITTSBURGH -- Jung Ho Kang is almost ready to rejoin the Pirates. The Bucs announced on Sunday that Kang, who spent the entire offseason recovering from left knee surgery, will begin a Minor League rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday. It's a major step toward Kang's highly anticipated return, the final part of the grueling rehab process.

"We felt it was time to get him out against some upper-level competition," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He felt like he was ready to face Triple-A [competition], get his feet on the ground, speed of the game, quality of the competition and see how he progresses through it, and keep him on track to help as at some point -- hopefully sooner rather than later."

Reliever Jared Hughes, working his way back from a left lat strain, is also scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Indianapolis on Tuesday. Hughes hasn't pitched since March 16 but should bolster the middle of the Pirates' bullpen upon his return.

"He's thrown the ball very well. We'll see where he is," Huntington said. "We have some things mapped out where we can go shorter or longer based on how the ball is coming out of his hand and, most important, how he feels."

Kang's rehab stint can last up to 20 days -- which means Kang could return to the Majors on or before May 7, unless the Pirates pause or restart the process. While the Pirates recently estimated Kang would return in mid-to-late April, Huntington reiterated on Sunday that Kang has recovered remarkably well from a traumatic injury.

Kang suffered a fractured tibia and torn meniscus late last season when then-Cubs infielder Chris Coghlan slid into the South Korean rookie's left leg at second base. His operation on Sept. 17 was performed by a trauma surgeon, and the Pirates have compared the injury to something that might be sustained in a motor vehicle accident.

"He is so far ahead of where we thought he would be coming off the traumatic injury he sustained," Huntington said. "It's an injury we've never seen before in our time in baseball. I'm not sure there are many people that have seen this injury.

"To get him back and playing in a Triple-A game on April 18 is truly remarkable and a testament to him and our guys and the trauma surgeon."

Kang hit .287/.355/.461 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs last season, and finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting. When he returns, he will play third base almost every day. Given the severity of his injury, Kang won't see much time at shortstop.

"I would not anticipate us to ask him to do anything other than third base for the majority of this year, if not the whole season," Huntington said. "To ask him to play any other positions is not in his best interest or our best interest from a purely physical standpoint."