"He's playing at a level he has never played before," manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday night following the Bucs' 3-2 victory, their seventh straight, over the White Sox. "He's learning something every day."
Apparently, one of the things Kang has learned very well is, "Strike quickly."
He again exhibited that M.O. in the first inning, jumping on John Danks' first pitch for a two-run homer that capped a three-run first and the Pirates' offensive output. This having been Kang's first look at Danks from a distance of 60 feet and six inches, the aggressive contact was impressive.
"But from watching video, I knew Danks was a good control pitcher, and I thought going for the first pitch was the best decision," Kang said through interpreter H.K. Kim
"Oh, Kang does a lot of homework," Hurdle said. "He does a lot of video work. And he can hit. He's got skills to hit, and he hunts pitches in certain situations."
When Kang is on a hunt, he does not take long to bag his game. Each of his four home runs have come on the first pitch:
• On May 3, he jumped on Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal's first pitch for a ninth-inning game-tying homer in St. Louis,
• On May 10, he jumped on Tyler Lyons' first pitch for a first-inning homer that started the Bucs to a 4-3 victory over the Cards at PNC Park.
• On May 28, he attacked Ian Kennedy's first pitch for a three-run bomb into Petco Park's upper deck that pointed the Bucs toward an 11-5 win over the Padres.
So the first-pitch blow by Kang was really the only routine development on a weird night. For one thing, it was weird because both teams scored; that happened for only the third time in the Bucs' last 10 games (in addition to throwing six shutouts themselves, they had also been blanked once in that stretch). For another, the Pirates won while the Cardinals lost -- the first time since June 1 that the teams did not play to the same outcome.
• Pirates' scoreless mound streak ends at 35 innings
The last four chapters of the Bucs' winning streak have come with Kang in the cleanup spot. Or, as he prefers to think of it, in the four-hole.
"I don't think of it as hitting 'clean up,'" said Kang, the designation perhaps losing something in the translation. "Just as hitting number four. But I'm doing my best, and I feel that I'm playing well. I know it's been fun. I enjoy helping the team win."