BRADENTON, Fla. – Jung-ho Kang stood in to take live pitching today in a minor league game at Pirate City. The infielder went 1-for-4, but didn’t run the bases after any hits, which essentially made it a live batting practice session. Kang said through his translator that he’s trying to get his timing down at this point.
After the session, Kang went over to field three and ran the bases (exclusive video below), which is a significant step in his rehab. Running the bases is usually the final step before a player can return to the field from a leg injury. Kang said that he has now run the bases two or three times, so he’s progressing well. He said that “it’s getting better” in terms of how he feels after, but overall said the knee feels good.
As for when he might be able to get into games and run after hitting the ball, Kang didn’t need a translator after having the question translated for him.
“Maybe next week,” Kang said.
Kang would like to return by Opening Day, stating that this is his personal goal. However, Neal Huntington said that this wasn’t in their plans, and that they wanted to go a bit conservative with him after signing David Freese.
“We felt like it was the right move to make. Kang, we’re still projecting mid-to-late April. He wants to come back earlier. If he comes back mid-to-late April, then we’ve had David Freese at third base for a good chunk of time. If there’s a setback, then we’ve got an established Major League ready third baseman ready to step in for a longer period of time.”
“I’m working hard to get back as soon as possible,” Kang said, through his interpreter. “That’s my goal. I’ll attack it day by day and see how it goes.”
Kang looks like he’s close to getting into games. The challenge now would be building him up to be ready for the season. Everyone else has been playing games for three weeks now. If Kang started playing games next week, then he’d still have a long buildup to the point where he could play back to back full games, and the Pirates might take it slower than a player who isn’t coming off an injury. So you could probably expect him to still stick to that mid-to-late April timeline.
Here is exclusive video of Kang running the bases today, along with his lone hit: