Steady progress for Kang in injury rehab

Pirates third baseman not ruling out being ready by Opening Day

Steady progress for Kang in injury rehab

BRADENTON, Fla. -- While resting and recovering from surgery that ended his 2015 season, Jung Ho Kang filled his downtime with television. As he settled in for an offseason split between Pittsburgh and Pirate City, Kang dove into "The Walking Dead," "Breaking Bad" and "Entourage."

Kang is back on his feet now, steadily working his way back from a fractured tibial plateau and a torn meniscus in his left leg. As the Pirates report to their Spring Training complex this week, they'll find that Kang has come a long way in a relatively short time.

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Kang is running, fielding ground balls, throwing and hitting in the batting cages at Pirate City, he said Tuesday while sitting in the clubhouse next to interpreter H.K. Kim. Kang started running outside last week, and he started throwing from third to first base Monday.

"Everything's good," Kang said in English.

The next step -- and presumably the most challenging one, given the nature of his injury -- will be running the bases. After that, he'll need to hit on the field and face live pitching before he's considered game-ready.

"Progress is good," Kang said. "Small steps."

Kang's impressive rookie season ended Sept. 17, when Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan slid into his left leg on a takeout slide at second base. Kang had surgery later that night, and the Pirates said he would return in six to eight months.

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That estimate allowed for Kang to be back in game shape anytime between mid-March and mid-May. In December, not long after Kang's rehabilitation moved from Pittsburgh to Bradenton, general manager Neal Huntington admitted that Kang was more likely to return in April than May.

Is Opening Day still a possibility? Kang remains hopeful but unsure.

"I don't know," he said.

In his first year out of the Korea Baseball Organization, Kang hit .287 with an .816 OPS and 15 home runs for the Pirates. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting, surprised those who wondered if he could make the KBO-to-MLB transition and opened the door for others to do the same.

Kang's injury also prompted questions about the need for a new rule in Major League Baseball to protect middle infielders from takeout slides. Less than a month after Kang went down, Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada suffered a broken leg on a similar play at second base.

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Major League Baseball and the Players Association are getting closer to an agreement on redefining what is considered a legal slide into second. Kang is in favor of such an agreement, though he doesn't hold a grudge against Coghlan.

"I support it. It's for the players, to protect the players," Kang said. "I don't think it was intentional at all. The player, Coghlan, he was just breaking up the double play.

"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 just get ready again."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.