As Kang's rehab nears end, Bucs mull options

Prospect Diaz, lefty Luebke dealing with injuries; Freese sees time at 2nd

As Kang's rehab nears end, Bucs mull options

PITTSBURGH -- Jung Ho Kang's recovery from September surgery on his left leg has gone as well as the Pirates could have hoped for. With his Minor League rehabilitation assignment winding down, it's time for Pittsburgh to determine what's next.

Saturday is the final day of Kang's 20-day rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis. The Pirates essentially have three options. They could choose to activate him and add him to their roster this weekend in St. Louis. They could pause his rehab assignment and resume it shortly afterward, resetting that 20-day clock. Or they could activate him and option him to Triple-A to get more playing time.

The Bucs are mulling over those options, head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said Wednesday, but they remain encouraged by the third baseman's progress.

"He has done an unbelievable job," Tomczyk said. "To overcome what he has experienced and went through with the surgery and the rehab, he's done a phenomenal job without too many hiccups."

In 13 games with Indianapolis, Kang has hit .150/.217/.225 with four walks and nine strikeouts. He's taken 40 at-bats, nearly reaching the threshold of 45-60 that the Pirates set for their players in Spring Training.

Over the past two weeks, Kang has played on back-to-back days before taking a partial day off to pinch-hit or come off the bench to play defense. General manager Neal Huntington recently said Kang likely will continue on that schedule when he returns to Pittsburgh.

Trainer's room
• Catcher Elias Diaz, the Pirates' No. 8 prospect, had his right elbow scoped and cleaned up Tuesday. He is expected to return to competition in seven to nine weeks. Diaz hoped to avoid surgery.

"They were just the changes in a joint that throwing athletes get," Tomczyk said. "He worked his tail end off trying to do this conservatively. Unfortunately, the condition of his elbow did not allow him to do that."

• Left-hander Cory Luebke (right hamstring tightness) was scheduled to pitch three innings in Triple-A as part of his rehab assignment. The lefty made three previous appearances for Indianapolis, most recently throwing three scoreless innings with four strikeouts on Friday.

What's on second?
David Freese made his first professional appearance at second base in the Pirates' 7-1 loss to the Cubs on Tuesday. With Kang expected to return soon, manager Clint Hurdle admitted the Pirates will "have to create some" opportunities for Freese.

The veteran third baseman, expected to spend more time at first base after Kang comes back, was willing to try out second for a few innings.

"We thought there was value to it," Hurdle said. "We talked about it, then we approached him, and of course he said he'd do it. I said, 'Well, ask him if he's done it.' I never got the answer back to that. He said, 'I can do it.' And as I found out, he's never done it, other than take balls in BP."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.