Kang cleared for game action at Pirate City

Official rehab assignment next step for 3B; No. 8 prospect Diaz shut down with elbow soreness

Kang cleared for game action at Pirate City

PITTSBURGH -- Rehabbing third baseman Jung Ho Kang has been cleared to play in games with no restrictions, Pirates head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said Wednesday.

Kang, working his way back from September surgery on his left leg, has played five innings on back-to-back days at the club's Pirate City training complex in Bradenton, Fla. Kang had been hitting, running the bases and playing defense.

He recently began sliding on a mat, the last significant hurdle that stood between him and full game action.

"Things are going well," Tomczyk said. "We're going to move forward with getting him back into the full swing of things in a game."

Kang played five innings at third base Wednesday afternoon, Tomczyk said, and is scheduled to play five or six innings on Thursday. He isn't ready to play five or six games per week yet, but he could still return as soon as late April.

Kang had surgery on Sept. 17 to repair a fractured tibia and a torn meniscus. The Pirates initially estimated he would return to the field in six to eight months, comparing the injury -- which occurred on a takeout slide at second base -- to one suffered in a serious car accident.

Kang exits with fractured leg

When he's back in game shape, Kang will begin an official Minor League rehab assignment with one of the Pirates' affiliates, most likely Double-A Altoona or Triple-A Indianapolis. After completing his rehab assignment, Kang will rejoin the Pirates as their everyday third baseman.

Kang, 29, hit .287/.355/.461 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs last season and finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting.

Trainer's room
• The Pirates shut down catching prospect Elias Diaz and have sought "multiple opinions" regarding the structural damage to his right elbow, Tomczyk said. Diaz stopped throwing late in Spring Training and worked his way back to playing catch, but the soreness in his throwing elbow persisted.

Tomczyk said the Pirates are having "ongoing" discussions about how to proceed with Diaz, their No. 8 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com. Heading into the season, Diaz was perhaps the Bucs' most Major League-ready backup plan at any position.

Diaz's two-run homer

• Reliever Jared Hughes (left lat strain) pitched in a simulated game at Pirate City on Wednesday, Tomczyk said, and the early reports on his outing were positive. The Pirates placed Hughes, a key piece of their bullpen, on the 15-day disabled list on Opening Day.

• Right-hander Trevor Williams, the club's No. 24 prospect, is day to day with shoulder discomfort. Williams recorded one out in his first start for Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday before leaving the game. Tomczyk said Williams planned to play catch on Wednesday.

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