'Everything's better': Pirates' Kang getting back in the swing of things
February 16, 2016 8:27 PM
The Pirates' Jung Ho Kang grabs his injured knee after turning a double play against the Cubs on Sept. 17 at PNC Park.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — The hardware remains in Jung Ho Kang’s left knee, rods and plates from the surgical procedure that ended his first year in Major League Baseball. It’s not going anywhere, either, so long as it doesn’t cause problems.
So far, the knee is healing well. Kang, who came to Pirate City in December to rehabilitate, has returned to baseball activities without issue.
“Good,” he said, in English, Tuesday, the eve of the date when pitchers and catchers must report to spring training. “Everything’s better.”
Kang said he doesn’t know if he will be ready by opening day. The Pirates estimated a six- to eight-month recovery time after Kang’s Sept. 17 surgery, meaning a return to competition any time between mid-March and mid-May is possible. At PirateFest in December, general manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates expected Kang back in April rather than May.
When Kang reaches full strength, though, he still will need to accrue enough preseason plate appearances to hone his timing. That process might force him to start the season on the disabled list and ensure he has a full spring training’s worth of plate appearances against major league velocity, be it in spring training or extended spring games.
Given where he was Sept. 17, he is doing great.
Kang, playing his first year in MLB after nine seasons in his native South Korea, was hitting .287 with 15 home runs and an .816 on-base plus slugging percentage. The Chicago Cubs had the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the first inning on a Thursday afternoon at PNC Park. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo grounded Charlie Morton’s offering to the right side. Neil Walker threw to shortstop Kang at second to start a double play.
As Kang set his legs to throw to first, Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan, the runner from first, slid sideways to break up the play. Coghlan’s right knee collided with Kang’s left knee and buckled it. The collision fractured the tibial plateau, the top of one of the bones in the lower leg, in Kang’s right knee, and also damaged the lateral meniscus.
“I don’t think it was intentional at all,” Kang said. “The player, Coghlan, was just breaking up a double play.”
As Kang recuperated, he kept busy with American television: “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “Entourage.” He documented his recovery with pictures and videos on Instagram — indoor lateral shuffles, going down a waterslide and, last week, taking grounders in the infield.
“Half and half,” he said of the surgery and rehabilitation. “It was bad, of course I felt bad about it. But on the other hand, I took it as a message to give it a break and get ready to go.”
Kang started running last week and also started swinging in the batting cage. He began throwing across the diamond Monday, and the next step is to run the bases and face live pitching.
According to ESPN, MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association have made progress on a rule change intended to curtail violent collisions at second base — without preventing the baserunners from making a hard, legal slide to break up a double play. In addition to Kang, New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada’s leg was broken Oct. 10 in a National League Division Series game when Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley slid, late and past the bag, into second base.
“I agree,” Kang said. “I support it. It’s for the players; it’s to protect the players.”
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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