Jung Ho Kang Heating Up, Keeping Struggling Pirates Afloat

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

“Jung-Ho-Ho and a bottle of rum!”

Pittsburgh Pirates fans first heard that line from their home team play-by-play announcer back on Sunday, May 3 when Jung Ho Kang the first home run of his major league career. The pressure’s been on Kang to live up to his four-year, $16 million contract before this season, and it hasn’t helped that Kang hasn’t seen too much playing time due to a logjam of infielders.

But as the 28-year-old South Korean has become more accustomed to the major leagues this season, we may hear more of “Jung-Ho-Ho” doing his thing.

“I’m impressed with his make-up,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m impressed with the mental strength that he’s shown and the discipline. There’s a lot going on with this guy.”

Kang has emerged as one of the most consistent hitters on a struggling Pirates roster—in particular, third baseman Josh Harrison—while also maintaining a solid presence on defense. This weekend, Kang had his fingerprints all over the Pirates’ series win over the league-best division rivals St. Louis Cardinals.

In game one of the series on Friday, Kang came in as a defensive sub late in the game, getting a hit and scoring a run as the Pirates’ rally fell short. The 8-5 loss was punctuated by a peculiar moment when Kang struck out in the eighth inning while standing outside of the batter’s box. Kang had asked for a timeout and began to back out, but the umpire did not grant him the time. The pitch was over the plate for strike three, and Kang didn’t seem too happy with the situation.

GTY 472649702 S BBN USA PAKang after the strikeout. He isn’t having it. Like, seriously. (Image via Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Things would change on Saturday, though, as Kang got the start and went 2 for 4 at the plate with a run scored. But he also got to be a part of baseball history on defense as the Pirates turned the first 4-5-4 (second baseman to third, back to second) triple play ever. The Pirates would beat the Cards, 7-5. Check out the crazy video below.

Kang was slated into the starting lineup again on Sunday, batting at the No. 2 spot for the first time. Wielding a hot pink bat in honor of Mother’s Day and breast cancer awareness, Kang kept his hot streak at the plate going, opening the scoring with a home run (the second bottle of rum for his career), then driving in the winning run with a single in the seventh inning.

By the way, you have to appreciate how the Pirates broadcasters say “Kang” with the proper Korean pronunciation. The Pirate’s pull-over throwback jerseys also look fantastic.

“As I’ve been playing in more games, getting more at-bats, my confidence is increasing,” Kang said through an interpreter after Sunday’s game. “The more pitches I see, the more control I have over the game. I’m going to do a better job with runners in scoring position, too.”

Kang has hit .429 in his last 35 at-bats, and he enters Monday’s game with a .333/.337/.521 line on the season. He’s also slated for this third-straight start in tonight’s game, and he’ll look to continue his hot streak 1/5th of the way through the long baseball season.


Feature image via Pittsburgh Pirates Instagram

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