Bucs' Kang starts rehab stint at Indianapolis

Huntington says infielder is ahead of schedule in recovery from left knee surgery

April 19th, 2016
Jung Ho Kang's rehab stint can last up to 20 days, meaning he could return to the big leagues on or before May 7. (AP)Chris O'Meara/AP

Jung Ho Kang took the next step toward rejoining the Pirates, beginning a Minor League rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday.

Kang, who is recovering from left knee surgery, batted third and played third base for the Indians in their matchup with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers' Triple-A affiliate. He played seven innings, going 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts, but drew a walk and scored a run.

"It's my first time here [in Indianapolis], I think it's going to be fun," Kang said before the game through a translator. "I'm going to treat every game as if I'm playing in Pittsburgh, so I'm going to do my best every game."

The 29-year-old infielder suffered a fractured tibia and a torn meniscus near the end of last season in a collision at second base with then-Cubs infielder Chris Coghlan. The Pirates have previously estimated Kang's return for mid-to-late April, but general manager Neal Huntington spoke optimistically of Kang's recovery on Sunday. Kang's rehab stint can last up to 20 days, meaning he could return to the big leagues on or before May 7.

"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 spoke positively of his rehab prior to Monday's game, noting he progressed to sliding again last week.

"I'm think I'm on the right track," Kang said. "It was scary the first time [sliding], to be honest, but it's getting more natural."

Kang, a National League Rookie of the Year Award candidate in 2015, is expected to primarily play third base when he rejoins the Pirates. He batted .287/.355/.461 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs last season.

Kang wasn't the only big name on display in Monday's game. Right-hander Jameson Taillon -- Pittsburgh's No. 4 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, and the No. 2 overall Draft pick in 2010 -- made his second Minor League start since missing the last two years due to injuries.

Taillon underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2014 and was again sidelined with a sports hernia last season. He returned to the mound last Wednesday and followed that up with 4 1/3 innings on Monday. The 24-year-old surrendered two earned runs on seven hits; he struck out four batters and walked none.

"For him to come out with the crispness, the sharpness of the stuff, the velocity, the comfort was great," Huntington said of Taillon's first outing. "Right now, the focus focus is on health, how the ball is coming out of his hand and the consistency of command. The velocity will be there. It was there last summer. It's really the crispness, the quality and consistency we're looking for out of all three pitches."