Hurdle believes Kang can work through slump

Pirates third baseman struggling to make adjustments

Hurdle believes Kang can work through slump

LOS ANGELES -- When speaking to Jung Ho Kang about his slump at the plate and his struggles in the field, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle didn't have to look far for proof that everyone has down years.

Hurdle mentioned Andrew McCutchen and former Pittsburgh left-hander Francisco Liriano, two established veterans inexplicably struggling this season. Kang has followed a similar path, enduring a miserable slump after an outstanding rookie year in the Majors.

"He's been a pro," Hurdle said. "It happens up here. It's usually going to happen, sooner or later."

Kang has been out of the Pirates' lineup each of the last two days, and he may cede more starts at third base to David Freese if his struggles persist. Kang entered Friday hitting .230/.307/.447, and he's run up his error total to eight, five of them in August.

"He is working hard to try to find some consistency with everything we're doing," Hurdle said. "There's always a side of the argument that to become more consistent, you need to play more. At this point of the season, production does play more when you've got more length to your schedule to look at.

"We'll look for opportunities to get him involved. Hopefully some traction can take place and he can put together some at-bats that show he's in a better place to go ahead and feed him more at-bats."

Kang was a pleasant surprise for the Pirates and one of their best hitters last season, his first after making the transition from the Korean Baseball Organization. Kang batted .287/.355/.461 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs, finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting. He was an above-average third baseman defensively, and he held his own at shortstop.

But Kang had major left knee surgery in September, and his return to the Majors didn't come until May. He burst out of the gates, homering twice in his 2016 debut. The Pirates said all along that Kang wouldn't be fully back to normal until 2017, but they couldn't have predicted this kind of slump.

Some of Kang's problems, Hurdle said, are common for all second-year players. Opponents have more data to draw from and more video to watch. They have learned how to pitch to him, and they're effectively putting that plan into action.

Kang has seen fewer fastballs this year, down from 55.7 percent to 47 percent, and more changeups and curveballs. Hurdle has occasionally noted that Kang has been late on fastballs and too early on offspeed pitches, caught in an awkward middle ground at the plate.

"The way they've pitched him is completely different than what we were seeing last year," Hurdle said. "They've been good with it. They've executed. That's the biggest thing."

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