Pirates notebook: Kang at minicamp, making progress

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, 9:12 a.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — As Pirates general manager Neal Huntington watched the first round of minicamp drills Monday morning at Pirate City, Jung Ho Kang snuck up from behind and surprised Huntington with a hug.

Not quite four months after having surgery to repair damage to his left knee and a fractured leg, Kang is making progress with his rehab. He threw long toss outside for about five minutes with a trainer Monday, and also is able to jog and lift weights with his upper body.

Kang briefly chatted and shared a laugh with Huntington, then returned to the trainer's room. Kang's interpreter is not with him this week, so he was not able to offer much in reply when queried by reporters.

Huntington has said he's hopeful Kang will be able to play again sometime in April. Does Kang think he'll be ready by Opening Day?

“I don't know … maybe,” Kang said, smiling as his voice trailed off in a tease.

Bard eyes comeback

Five years ago, Daniel Bard was among the best setup relievers in baseball. Then he lost everything — his control, his job in the majors, his confidence.

Not ready to quit baseball, Bard, 30, agreed to a minor league contract with the Pirates. Monday, he reported to Pirate City to finalize the deal and participate in the five-day minicamp.

“You've seen it time and again,” Bard said. “Guys come here and the Pirates seem to help them a lot and they help out the Pirates a lot. I'm excited.”

Pitching coach Ray Searage, who has resuscitated the careers of several pitchers, will face a stiff test with Bard.

“I'm really looking forward to meeting (Searage),” Bard said.

In 2009-11, Bard put up a 2.88 ERA and 1.06 WHIP as a reliever with the Boston Red Sox. He averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Things started falling apart when the Red Sox tried to convert Bard to a starter in 2012. Over two seasons, his walk rate (6.7 per nine innings) was higher than his strikeout rate (5.8).

He eventually was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which is caused by compression, injury or irritation of the nerves or blood vessels in the lower neck and upper chest. He had surgery, which required removing a rib, in January 2014.

The right-hander last pitched in 2014 with the Texas Rangers' Single-A affiliate. Bard faced 18 batters — nine walked, seven were hit by pitches — and gave up 13 runs over four outings (two-thirds of an inning).

“It's been challenging,” Bard said. “But I think it's just a matter of time. I'm not ready to give it up. I've felt myself continue to get better; not always as fast as I'd like, but I've definitely seen progress.”

First day, first base for Jaso

John Jaso fielded grounders at first base, his first workout at the position since inking a two-year, $8 million deal with the Pirates in late December. A seven-year veteran and former catcher, Jaso has played in only two games at first base in his career.

“My preparation is the same every year,” Jaso said. “I'm not going to change much, except now I'm taking ground balls.”

Jaso, who lives about 45 minutes away in St. Petersburg, plans to make frequent visits to Pirate City before spring training begins to get extra work at first base.

Jaso wears his hair in dreadlocks, which were gathered into a ponytail and stuck out under the back of his cap.

“I've always had the hair, but I just went to the (dreads) about five months ago,” Jaso said, grinning.

Around the horn

Attendance at minicamp is voluntary for those who are on the 40-man roster. There are lockers set up for 34 players, including Gregory Polanco, Jon Niese, Tyler Glasnow, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, Jameson Taillon and Jeff Locke. Neither Polanco nor Niese attended Monday's session, which lasted from 9:45 a.m. to noon. ... Reliever Guido Knudson was re-signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Knudson was designated for assignment last week when reliever Trey Haley was signed. ... The Pirates lost their players' union representative when Neil Walker was traded to the New York Mets last month. Watson and Hughes are filling in, and the players will elect a full-time rep at the start of spring training. Gerrit Cole and Mark Melancon also are candidates for the post.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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