Kang set for Monday return; Cole progressing

Pirates pencil right-hander in for return on Sept. 12 vs. Phillies

Kang set for Monday return; Cole progressing

PITTSBURGH -- Reinforcements are on the way soon for the Pirates.

After finishing a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday, third baseman Jung Ho Kang is expected to return from the 15-day disabled list and rejoin the Pirates on Monday. Right-hander Gerrit Cole is a little more than a week away from his return, as he's penciled in to start the Pirates' series opener against the Phillies on Sept. 12.

Kang began a rehab assignment with Indianapolis on Thursday and homered in his first game. He went 0-for-2 with two walks while playing third base on Saturday and was slated to start again Sunday.

"The first game, he played very strong. Got a ball out over the plate, didn't try to do too much with it and absolutely destroyed it," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "We'll see where he is today, and hopefully he'll be ready to help us come win some games soon."

Upon his return, Kang will likely split time at third base with David Freese, who entered Sunday hitting .140 with 21 strikeouts in 14 games since Aug. 19.

Cole threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Saturday. He will throw two more times before returning to the rotation in Philadelphia, if all goes well. Cole has been sidelined since Aug. 25 by posterior inflammation in his right elbow.

Cole's great play on a bunt

After Cole returns, Huntington said, the Pirates will "mix and match" their starters down the stretch. With three rookies in their current rotation and at least one of them -- Jameson Taillon -- having his innings monitored, the Bucs could get creative like they did down the stretch last season, effectively using six starters to fill five spots without implementing a true six-man rotation.

"We've got some pitchers that want to go every fifth day. We've got some pitchers that may benefit from a pushed-back start, a skipped start," Huntington said. "It's going to be an interesting puzzle for [pitching coach Ray Searage] to put together in September. A lot of it depends upon Gerrit."

Sept. 12 would be Taillon's day to start if he remains on schedule after pitching against the Cardinals on Wednesday. Taillon is nearing a career-high in innings pitched, and the Bucs would like to keep him fresh enough to pitch in October if they make the postseason.

With Cole returning that day, Pittsburgh could skip Taillon's turn and have him return to start alongside Cole in the Pirates' day-night doubleheader in Cincinnati on Sept. 17 or push Taillon's outing back a few days and shuffle the rotation accordingly.

"We'll monitor. We're in a good spot, but at the same time, we want to monitor how he's feeling, the workload," Huntington said of Taillon. "There's a perfect-world scenario, and there's a real-world scenario. We want to make those match as closely as we can."

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.