Home run highlights Kang's successful debut

New shortstop connects on solo shot, plays solid defense in Bucs' victory

Home run highlights Kang's successful debut

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jung Ho Kang did not wait long to flash his power -- or his first "Z."

The sensation from Korea slugged his first home run in a Pirates uniform in his second at-bat of Tuesday's 8-7 win over the Blue Jays in the Grapefruit League opener, and it was impressive.

Kang then reacted the way world-class athletes are always reminded to: Act like you've been there before.

"No big difference," Kang said, when asked how this home run felt compared to the 139 he hit in the Korean Baseball Organization, including 40 of them last season.

With Pittsburgh holding a 5-0 lead in the third inning, Kang pulled the trigger on a fastball from Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada and sent a solo shot over Florida Auto Exchange Stadium's fence in right-center.

"He barreled the ball up big time," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He got a ball up in the zone and covered it well, all the way out of the park."

Upon completing his trot, Kang linked his thumbs in the team's traditional "Zoltan" salute on his way back to the Bucs' third-base dugout.

Who had taken the time to teach him the "Z?"

"Polanco," said Kang, citing second-year outfielder Gregory Polanco.

In his first at-bat, Kang had grounded out sharply to shortstop.

"Stung the ball then, too," Hurdle noted.

Kang's day in the field was also eventful. Of the four grounders he fielded cleanly at short, two were noteworthy.

With one out in the second and Edwin Encarnacion aboard after a walk, he scooped up Josh Donaldson's grounder and underhanded it to second baseman Sean Rodriguez to begin a double play. The very next batter, Justin Smoak, hit a hard grounder to the other side of the second-base bag, smoothly fielded and turned into an out by Kang.

For the latter play, Kang had been stationed directly behind second as the Pirates' infield went into a moderate shift for Smoak, a switch-hitter batting left-handed against righty Casey Sadler.

"He's very steady in the infield. He turned a nice double play to get Sadler out of the second inning," said Hurdle, who didn't see the language barrier as a problem for Kang in keeping up with the team's frequent defensive shifts.

"[Infield coach Nick Leyva] goes like this," Hurdle said, waving both arms to his right and grinning broadly, "Kang goes that way. Or Nick waves like this, he goes the other way. He's good with it."

Kang played 5 1/2 innings, calling it "a big step" in his transition to Major League Baseball.

"I tried not to be nervous," Kang said, "and just enjoy the game and the moment."

First baseman Pedro Alvarez, the erstwhile third baseman who along with Kang are perhaps the biggest keys to the Bucs' 2015 fortunes, began the scoring with an opposite-field three-run homer in the first inning off Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez.

"It was good to see. I love the way we came out swinging the bats aggressively," said Hurdle, who then dropped the expected cautionary note. "First exhibition game -- we need to keep a dose of reality in everything we do."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.