With Kang's return date uncertain, Pirates evaluate fill-in 3B options
BRADENTON, Fla. — The question most often asked in Pirates camp this spring is whether third baseman Jung Ho Kang will be ready for Opening Day. So far, there is no definitive answer.
Kang had surgery in September to repair damage to his left leg and knee after a collision at second base. He began working out at the Pirate City complex in January and this week is ramping up his on-field activities.
“We get reports on (Kang) on a daily basis,” first base coach Nick Leyva said. “Some days, it says it looks like he's going to be ready (April 3). Other days, it says it might be a week in. You never know.”
Kang is able to take batting practice, field ground balls and run straight sprints in the outfield. On Wednesday, athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said Kang has not been cleared for baserunning.
It's possible some of Kang's workouts will be shifted to the back fields at Pirate City next week. It's unclear when he finally will appear in a Grapefruit League game.
With less than a month to go before the season opener, the Pirates are working through their options if Kang needs more time to get up to speed. Sean Rodriguez, Jason Rogers, Cole Figueroa and Pedro Florimon are getting time at third base this spring.
“We'll be ready,” Leyva said. “There are a lot of possibilities. Somebody will win the job.”
Josh Harrison appeared in 72 games at third last season. With Neil Walker gone, Harrison is slated to be the everyday second baseman — the position he's always preferred — and is not a candidate to fill in at third.
“For the time being, I haven't given it much thought,” Harrison said. “I'm prepared to play second every night. If (third base) comes up, we'll talk about it. Otherwise, if nothing's said to me, I'm prepared for second base.”
Sean Rodriguez is the most likely replacement for Kang. Last year, Rodriguez played in only eight games at third, not because he can't handle the position but because Pedro Alvarez was a disaster at first base.
“One of Sean's special traits is he can play five different positions in a game and probably make three remarkable plays at each one of those spots,” general manager Neal Huntington said.
Manager Clint Hurdle has said he wants to use Rodriguez at spots other than first base more often this year.
“Whatever gets me on the field,” Rodriguez said. “I want to play, just like anybody else. If playing third more means more opportunity, that means I get to stick my hand in the cookie jar more often, twirl it around and hopefully pull out some more cookies for this team.”
Rodriguez played third base Wednesday. Thursday, Jason Rogers started there against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Rogers was an outfielder and later a first baseman with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates acquired him in December knowing he's made just one career start at third base.
“Game-wise, yeah, not that much experience,” Rogers said. “It's all right, though. It's something I work on every day, trying to get the footwork down. It's all about preparation. In times past, I didn't really prepare myself like I should have, and it backfired on me.”
Rogers hit .286 with four homers in 94 games with the Brewers but never found a steady gig. He knows he'll have to fill a utility role if he breaks camp with the Pirates.
“I have no set position,” he said. “Outfield, third, first … anytime my name's in the lineup, I have to take advantage of it.”