Hot-hitting Jung Ho Kang takes over as Pirates’ shortstop

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Jung Ho Kang’s slow start to spring training had a surprising number of people concluding that his big-time production in Korea wouldn’t translate to MLB, but he’s proven them very wrong so far and has now established himself as the Pirates’ starting shortstop.

Kang began the season in a bench role, but he’s hit .299 with two homers, five doubles, and an .823 OPS in 75 plate appearances. Along with Opening Day shortstop Jordy Mercer hitting .176 that convinced manager Clint Hurdle to make Kang the shortstop all weekend.

He signed a four-year, $11 million deal with the Pirates this offseason after hitting .356 with 40 homers and a 1.198 OPS in 117 games last year in Korea. Kang needs to keep putting up big numbers at the plate in order to remain the starter, because Hurdle made it pretty clear that he still views the 28-year-old’s defense skeptically, telling Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

I believe when you look at Jung Ho, the shortstop I’d probably compare him to would be a Jhonny Peralta-type. Jordy has probably more lateral range. They’re both very accurate with their arms. Jordy’s got more experience within this league for positioning. The only way Jung Ho’s going to get it is to continue to get out there and get those reps.

Mercer is a career .254 hitter with a .688 OPS in 325 games, so even if Kang comes back down to earth a bit there’s a good chance he can continue to be the superior offensive player. Hurdle’s ongoing evaluation of his defense figures to play a big role. Whatever the case, that $11 million is looking like a solid investment.

Video: Cubs score run on Pirates’ appeal throw

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2019 has been one long nightmare for the Pirates. They’re in last place in the NL Central, have had multiple clubhouse fights, and can’t stop getting into bench-clearing incidents. The embarrassment continued on Sunday as the club lost 16-6 to the Cubs, suffering a three-game series sweep in Chicago.

One of those 16 runs the Pirates allowed was particularly noteworthy. In the bottom of the third inning, with the game tied at 5-5, the Cubs had runners on first and second with two outs. Tony Kemp hit a triple to right field, allowing both Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward to score to make it 7-5. The Pirates thought one of the Cubs’ base runners didn’t touch third base on their way home. Reliever Michael Feliz attempted to make an appeal throw to third base, but it was way too high for Erik González to catch, so Kemp scored easily on the error.

The Pirates lost Friday’s game to the Cubs 17-8 and Saturday’s game 14-1. They were outscored 47-15 in the three-game series. According to Baseball Reference, since 1908, the Pirates never allowed 14+ runs in three consecutive games and only did it two games in a row twice before this series, in 1949 and in 1950. The Cubs scored 14+ in three consecutive games just one other time, in 1930.