After suffering through a disappointing first Spring Training to-date, Korean sensation Jung-ho Kang looked to get back on track on Sunday, hitting a game-winning, two-run home run in the ninth to propel the Pittsburgh Pirates past the Atlanta Braves by a 4-2 final.
The frame got started with Corey Hart lining a single to left against Braves reliever Michael Kohn before being lifted for pinch-runner Tyler Filliben. Andrew Lambo then advanced Filliben to second on a groundout to first, bringing Kang to the dish with the go-ahead run in scoring position with one out.
Kang, who led the KBO with 40 long-balls in 2014, then blasted his second homer of the spring – this one to left field – putting the Pirates ahead for good. In the bottom half of the frame, Yhonathan Barrios shut the door, setting down all three hitters he faced in order to preserve the win for Pittsburgh.
Prior to the ninth, it was a game of back-and-forth all afternoon long, with the Pirates landing the first punch early on when Pedro Florimon played Austin Meadows on a sac fly in the top of the third. Atlanta would answer back in the bottom of the fifth, when infielder Chris Johnson clubbed his second blast of the spring to tie the game 1-1.
The Korean infielder gave the Bucs the lead again in the seventh, driving in Starling Marte with an RBI single. Kang ended the afternoon 2-for-4 with three runs batted in. Despite the excellent outing on Sunday, he is batting just .171 on the spring. Meanwhile, both Jordy Mercer and Neal Walker have had stellar springs, respectively, meaning Kang is likely destined for a bench role to open the year.
Stolmy Pimentel, who has also struggled in Grapefruit League action this year, got the start for Pittsburgh, and he turned in a pair of scoreless frames. Five Pirates relievers followed the right-hander, combining to toss seven innings of two-run ball in his wake.
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As a team, the Pirates tallied just six base hits on the afternoon, while going 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Atlanta, meanwhile, managed a measly three hits while leaving six men on base in the contest. Shelby Miller, who was acquired in the deal that sent Jason Heyward to St. Louis, tossed six innings of one-run ball.
What Stood Out
It’s always good when the team edges out a late-inning win. It’s helpful as the club looks to build confidence heading into the regular season – and when the man responsible for the game-winning hit has been struggling like Jung-ho Kang has, it’s even better news for the team.
For Pittsburgh, who signed Kang to a four-year, $11 million deal this offseason, Sunday showcased just why the front office made its first big foray into the international market this winter. However, the slugging infielder will have to put more games like this together on a consistent basis to be an impact player for the Pirates in 2015.
Pittsburgh (13-10) is back in action on Monday, taking on the Philadelphia Phillies (11-14) at McKechnie Field in Bradenton.
The Pirates turn to right-hander Adrian Sampson (0-0, 0.00 ERA) – who has just one inning of work under his belt this spring. That inning came back on Mar. 6 against the New York Yankees. He walked one and did not allow a base hit.
Philadelphia has not yet announced its starter. First pitch is slated for 1:05 p.m. ET.