|Pittsburg Pirates' Kang Jung-ho runs during a Major League baseball exhibition game in this March 2015 file photo. / Korea Times file|
Pain-free after wrist surgery, Pittsburgh Pirates' South Korean infielder Kang Jung-ho has begun a hitting program, a report said Thursday.
Citing Todd Tomczyk, Pirates director of sports medicine, MLB.com said Kang is taking swings against overhand soft tosses, fielding ground balls and throwing without pain.
Kang went under the knife for cartilage debridement in his left wrist on Aug. 3, and his estimated recovery time was four to six weeks.
According to MLB.com, Kang will eventually face live pitching and get into games during the instructional league if rehab goes well.
The operation was yet another blow to what once seemed to be a promising big league career for the 31-year-old. He hasn't played in the majors since October 2016.
Kang missed the entire 2017 season with legal trouble in Seoul. Kang was arrested and charged with fleeing the scene of an accident after driving under the influence of alcohol in Seoul in December 2016. It was his third DUI arrest in South Korea, and he received an eight-month jail term, suspended for two years, in March 2017. He lost his appeal two months later.
Though he avoided prison time, Kang was denied a U.S. work permit after his arrest and was unable to enter the United States to play for the Pirates. He got his visa in April this year.
He joined the Pirates' Advanced A affiliate, the Brandenton Marauders, in early June, and batted .417 with three homers and 11 RBIs in seven games before earning a promotion to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians.
In nine games with the Indians, Kang batted .235 with five RBIs and no homers, and was placed on the disabled list on June 27 with a left wrist sprain. The Pirates said Kang first experienced discomfort on June 20.
Kang signed a four-year, US$11 million deal before the 2015 season, with a $5.5 million team option, or a $250,000 buyout, for 2019. He is the first South Korean position player to jump from the Korea Baseball Organization to the big leagues.
Kang finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 after batting .287 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games. The following year, he had 21 homers and 62 RBIs, with a .255 batting average in 103 games.