Kang shows no fear turning 2 at second base

Pirates third baseman suffered season-ending injury on similar play last year

May 19th, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- With Freddie Freeman at the plate during the Pirates' 3-1 loss to the Braves on Wednesday, Jung Ho Kang shifted from his spot at third base to where the shortstop normally stands. Francisco Liriano's 2-1 pitch bounced off Freeman's bat, and Kang sprinted toward second base.

Jordy Mercer fielded it cleanly and tossed the ball toward the bag. Kang reached out for Mercer's flip, picked the ball out of his glove with his right hand and fired to first baseman John Jaso, successfully turning his first double play at second base since the one that ended his outstanding rookie season last September.

"There wasn't any fear or hesitation," Kang said through interpreter H.K. Kim. "It was an urgent situation, so I just made that play."

Kang past 'rehab script,' to play consistently

It was the same play, essentially, that Kang tried to make on Sept. 17 at PNC Park. That afternoon, the Cubs' Chris Coghlan slammed into Kang's leg, sending him to the infield dirt. Kang underwent surgery later that night to repair a displaced lateral tibial plateau fracture and a torn meniscus.

The injuries and lengthy rehabilitation process sidelined Kang until May 6, when he made his triumphant return to the lineup with a two-homer game in St. Louis.

Kang played through an extended spring training stint in Bradenton, Fla., and a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis without having to make a similar play.

"I was just playing by the situation," Kang said. "Wasn't really thinking about it."

Kang may not have been thinking about it during the first inning Wednesday, but his double-play turn was a welcome sight in Pittsburgh.

"It was for me," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Don't know how he felt about it, but as soon as that ball was hit, I go, 'This is going to be interesting. He's going to have to make a play.'

"Obviously you saw no hesitation. It was a very athletic play. It gave everybody a little shot in the arm. I do think that's going to help his confidence moving forward."

Offensively, Kang may not need much of a confidence boost at this point. In his 10th game and ninth start back, Kang bashed his fifth home run, a solo shot to left field off Braves reliever Arodys Vizcaino.

As impressed as they were last year with Kang's quick transition to the Majors, the Pirates were perhaps even more blown away by the determination and work ethic he displayed throughout the rehab process.

"He continues to set the bar," head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said.

He may have cleared it, too. Kang is hitting .281/.351/.813 with 10 RBIs. Seven of his nine hits have gone for extra bases.

"I'm just really happy to rebound with teammates and the fan base here in Pittsburgh," Kang said. "I'll do my best to help the team win."