INDIANAPOLIS – Jung-Ho Kang kicked off his game rehab assignment in an attempt to come back from a gruesome lower leg injury on Monday night in Indianapolis. After a takeout slide in September, Kang had surgery to repair a displaced lateral tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscal repair. His return tonight is a huge step, getting back on the field in upper level action.
“[The rehab] has been very positive,” Kang said through an interpreter before the game. “I have got such great support from the coaching staff, the trainers and the organization. I feel good now.”
Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said that it was important to get Kang some action in those upper levels.
“We felt like it was time to get him out against some upper level competition,” Huntington said. “It was a trauma surgeon that put him back together again, not an orthopedic surgeon. It’s an injury that we’ve never seen before in our time in baseball, and I’m not sure there are many people who have seen this type of injury. He’s a sample size of one. His progression has been remarkable, and we’ve allowed him to kind of help us decide what the next step will be. He has literally been a day by day build, and to get him back out playing in a Triple-A game on April 18th is truly remarkable, and a testament to him, a testament to our guys, and ultimately the trauma surgeon who put him together.”
For Kang, patience is the hardest part, but not as hard as watching the Pirates open the 2016 season without him.
“Just learning to be patient was the challenging part,” Kang said. “Also, missing opening day was huge for me.”
Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said that Kang would play seven innings at third base on Monday. He would then have Tuesday off with an early morning game, followed by back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday. The assignment would be re-evaluated after that. Even with the off day on Tuesday, Kang will still come in early and take ground balls and put in a normal work day.
“It’s plotted out for him,” Treanor said. “We’ll see how he responds every day and go from there if we need to adjust.”
Treanor is also encouraged by Kang’s eagerness to get back out on the field and continue his comeback.
“He didn’t flinch at all [when we told him about the off day work],” Treanor said. “He said, ‘I need my work.’ He did that in the spring. Anytime we asked him to do something in the spring and everyday we asked him to do something he was on board and wanted to do more.”
Treanor said that Kang will play in the allotted innings with zero restrictions. He also confirmed that he will be available for pinch-hitting on certain off days. He will pinch-hit on those days, regardless of situation and if a pinch-hitter would typically be used just to get the at bat and to get him into situations.
Kang is still working on the fine parts of the game as getting the all important lateral movements back, but he’s pleased with the progress.
“I think that I am on the right track [with movements],” Kang said. “I was working on sliding too. It is going well.”
Stay tuned for game coverage in the Prospect Watch and updates as the assignment progresses.