Korean player returns to Pirates


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Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang works out at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang works out at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


Pittsburgh Pirates infielders Jung Ho Kang and Colin Moran, background, work out at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang walks across the field at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


Pirates’ Kang having a strong spring despite long layoff

Wednesday, March 6

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Pirates admittedly took a leap of faith when they re-signed Jung Ho Kang to a $3 million, one-year contract in November as a free agent.

Kang missed the entire 2017 season because he was unable to obtain a work visa to travel to the United States following a third arrest for DUI in his native South Korea.

Finally cleared to come to the U.S. last April, Kang sustained a wrist injury that required surgery while playing for Triple-A Indianapolis. He did return to the major leagues for the Pirates’ season-ending three-game series at Cincinnati.

So far during spring training, Kang has not looked like he was away from the major leagues for so long. He has hit three home runs and played good defense while looking to win the starting third baseman’s job from incumbent Colin Moran.

“It was uncharted territory coming in (to spring training) but he’s getting in his work and he’s knocking down different markers along the way,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “You have to like what you’ve have seen so far but it’s also still spring training. There’s a long way to go.”

In 2015, Kang became the first native position player to make the jump from the Korea Baseball Organization to the major leagues when he signed an $11 million, four-year contract. He then hit a combined 36 home runs in his first two seasons before the DUI arrest derailed his career.

The Pirates brought Kang back under the conditions that he give up drinking and also have a driver at all times.

“There is no third chance,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Jung Ho understands that.”

The 31-year-old also has slimmed down considerably and is moving better than he has at any time since undergoing reconstructive knee late in the 2015 season when he finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Kang has also been putting extra time in the batting cages to recapture his swing, which included hitting 139 home runs in nine Korean seasons. He has impressed first-year hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

“There is a high ceiling there, especially for someone who has missed a lot of game action for two years,” Eckstein said. “You can see why he was a good hitter at the major league level. The ball is jumping off his bat.”

Though Kang his improved his English skills over the years, he uses an interpreter to help with interviews. However, Kang didn’t need a translator when asked if baseball is as easy as he has made it look after such a long layoff.

“No, baseball is hard,” Kang said. “Very hard. That never changes.”

NOTES: C Elias Diaz, who has been away from the team for two weeks because of a virus, is scheduled to be examined by team doctors Thursday. The Pirates have not elaborated on the nature of his illness. … RF Gregory Polanco is now throwing from 120 feet in his rehab from shoulder surgery and is expected to begin taking part in limited defensive drills next week.

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Bryce Gouging: Harper makes Phillies hottest ticket in town

By DAN GELSTON

AP Sports Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bryce Harper swag is going, going and just about gone before he takes a swing in Philadelphia.

Phillies merchandise stores and ticket vendors are certainly getting their hefty cuts thanks to Harper hype.

Harper has Phillies fans spending stupid money on his No. 3 jerseys, tees and caps, and the franchise has set records with ticket sales headed into the March 28 opener.

Billboards welcoming Harper to Philly line the interstate headed to Citizens Bank Park — and it’s Harper driving retail traffic at a record clip.

No. 3 gear is No. 1 in Philadelphia.

“I can’t wait to be a part of the Phillies for a long period of time,” Harper said. “I’ve grown to love playing in Philly, love playing in Citizens Bank Park.”

When Harper looks in the stands on opening day — and over the remainder of his record $330 million, 13-year deal — he’ll see thousands of fans wearing his jersey.

Fanatics said Harper’s No. 3 Phillies jersey was the all-time best-seller for any athlete during the first 24 hours of launch. Aramark, which manages the Phillies New Era Team Store at the ballpark, said “interest is high and sales are brisk” and new waves of merchandise arrive daily. MLBShop.com offered free shipping on all U.S. orders over $39 — a walk in the park for fans buying the $119 Harper batting practice waffle pullover hoodie or $44.99 for the Harper toddler official cool base player jersey.

How’s this for a sign that Harper Mania has come out of left field? A notice was posted on the team store this week the store ran out of letters and did “not have any more R’s for Adult Home and Road Jerseys .”

The die-hards haven’t balked at the $145 jerseys and $35 T-shirts and shoppers are leaving with the bags full. One fan even sold the first Topps Bryce Harper Phillies baseball card for $199.99 on eBay — no stale stick of gum included.

Fanatics, an online retailer, declined to reveal sales numbers but said New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge was the top seller last season and Harper, wearing No. 34 for the Washington Nationals, was 12th.

Harper already is a hit on the field, with a home run Wednesday in his first scrimmage with the Phillies.

Harper could make a case for MVP to stand for Most Valuable Purchase.

The Phillies once had the toughest ticket in baseball shortly after Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004 and the franchise set an NL record with 257 straight sellouts from 2009-12. The Phillies drew 3,777,322 fans in 2010 but failed to reach 2 million in any season from 2015-17. They were in the playoff hunt until August last season and drew 2,158,124 fans, though tickets flooded the secondary market at less than $10 a pop.

The Bryce Boon has formed old-school lines at the ticket window.

John Weber, the Phillies senior vice president of ticket operations, said the team sold 100,000 tickets last Thursday when the team signed Harper and another 80,000 tickets the next day. The Phillies sold 50,000 tickets over Saturday and Sunday and 45,000 more on Monday. Philadelphia sells face value tickets ranging from $20 to $140 — but opening day tickets started at $103 (before fees) Wednesday on StubHub.

Weber said full season ticket equivalents have jumped from 9,500 to 12,300, thanks to the additions of Harper and four other All-Stars.

“You hope you have a price that is fair for the ups and downs as best you can,” Weber said. “It’s not perfect. But we’re not raising prices $20, $30 dollars. Let’s get our fans here and let them enjoy the game as we move forward.”

Marsha Zisling, of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, was a season ticket holder during the World Series seasons and gave them up once the team bottomed out in the NL East. Zisling held a shopping bag with a Harper authentic jersey as she stood in line this week at the ticket window and browsed potential dates. She even tuned into to a local sports radio station on the way to the park because she knew Harper would be a guest on the show.

“It’s just been an exciting time to finally have enthusiasm about the Phillies,” she said. “He was just on the radio, and I swear I started to cry listening to him. He’s just so genuine and really sincere about coming here and making the city his home.”

Nancy Hatfield, of Philadelphia, said Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen was actually her favorite player but she had to splurge on Harper merchandise. She held a couple of Harper T-shirts on her stop at the stadium to pick up her tickets. Hatfield has been a season ticket holder since 1996 and said Harper has energized the fanbase perhaps even more than the Ryan Howard-Chase Utley-Jimmy Rollins glory years.

“We’ve been waiting for something good to happen,” she said. “Now we just hope he doesn’t get injured. That’s the Philly Curse. It’s been sad, all the empty seats the last couple of years.”

Not everyone is on board with Harper’s arrival.

Let’s check in with Elias, the guitar-strumming WWE bad guy, of course, and not the source of baseball statistics and historical data.

“But you really want to know how I know I’m in Philly,” he sang at Monday’s WWE show. “Because the children here have no future no matter how hard they try. But you really want to know how I know I’m in Philly. Because Bryce Harper told me this was where his career would go to die.”

The fans erupted in boos toward anyone who would dare slander their newest All-Star. Many fans were already wearing No. 3 T-shirts.

But Phillies fans may want to slow the spending spree and save some of their cash for a rainy day.

After all, Mike Trout is a free agent in two years.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Manfred says Harper can’t recruit Trout (for now)

By JIMMY GOLEN

AP Sports Writer

BOSTON (AP) — Major League Baseball is investigating whether new Philadelphia slugger Bryce Harper committed a tampering violation when he lobbied for Mike Trout, who isn’t a free agent for two more seasons, to join the Phillies.

Speaking to a group of Boston business executives on Wednesday, commissioner Rob Manfred said he doesn’t want players recruiting other players, a practice that has been winked at in the NBA. Manfred said he didn’t want to see the same thing happen in baseball.

“Given our rules, players recruiting other players who are still under contract or under reserve to another club is a rule violation,” he said at the Boston College Chief Executives Club. “So, obviously not anxious to see that.”

Harper signed a $330 million, 13-year contract with the Phillies last week, and said at his introductory news conference: “There’s another guy in about two years that comes off the books. We’ll see what happens with that.”

That would likely not be tampering, but he may have crossed the line when he told Philadelphia radio station 94WIP: “If you don’t think I’m gonna call Mike Trout to come to Philly in 2020, you’re crazy.”

A two-time AL MVP with the Los Angeles Angels, Trout grew up near Philadelphia, attended the Phillies victory parade in 2008 as a 17-year-old and has season tickets for the Eagles. The 27-year-old outfielder is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season.

“For me, I can be able to talk to Trout, or whoever it is, big-name free agent or whoever wants to come to Philly or is thinking about coming to Philly, I can say ‘Hey, this is the place to be,” Harper said in the radio interview. “This is where the fans are great, ownership understands it, our manager is awesome.”

Baseball Rule 3(k) prohibits “negotiations or dealings respecting employment, either present or prospective, between any player, coach or manager and any Major or Minor League Club other than the Club with which the player is under contract.”

Manfred wouldn’t say whether he thought Harper’s comments constituted tampering.

“We’re in the process of gathering information about the comments and the context in which they were made,” he said. “We’re talking to both clubs and when we’re ready to decide whether it did or it didn’t we’ll let you know.”

Harper homered Wednesday in his first scrimmage with the Phillies and said his comments about Trout represented his intentions. Harper said he had been spoken to about the comments, but did not say who talked with him, only that it was not MLB.

“If I didn’t mean it, I wouldn’t have said it,” he told reporters.

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Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright suspended 80 games for HGH

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Boston Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright will sit out the first 80 games of the season after testing positive for Human Growth Hormone, a second suspension for the knuckleballer who missed 15 games last year for violating baseball’s domestic violence policy.

Wright said in a statement issued through the Major League Baseball Players Association that he learned of the positive test during the offseason.

“Although I do not dispute the validity of the test, I was shocked as I have never intentionally ingested anything for performance-enhancing purposes,” the statement said. “I have fully cooperated with MLB and will continue to try and identify the source of the result.”

The commissioner’s office said the 34-year-old Wright tested positive for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide 2 (GHRP-2). He is the second player under the big league program to test positive for HGH, which baseball has screened for in blood tests since 2013.

“While we are disappointed by the news of this violation, we will look to provide the appropriate support to Steven at this time,” the Red Sox said in a statement.

Wright was arrested on Dec. 8, 2017, at his home outside Nashville, Tennessee, and charged with domestic related assault and prevention of a 911 call, both misdemeanors. The Boston Globe reported prosecutors retired Wright’s case contingent on him completing an anger management course, refraining from violent contact with his wife, and incurring no new criminal charges for a year.

A starter for most of his career and an All-Star in 2016, Wright spent the bulk of last season in the bullpen, going 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA in 20 games. In addition to the 15-game suspension, he also missed all of April recovering from knee surgery and then went back on the disabled list with knee inflammation and missed all of August.

He was originally on the roster for the first-round playoff series against the New York Yankees, but told manager Alex Cora before Game 1 that his knee was bothering him. Wright did not appear in the postseason, when the Red Sox won their fourth World Series since 2004, and he had surgery on his left knee Nov. 12.

“I never thought it’d ever come down to this. I respect the joint drug treatment program. Unfortunately we couldn’t figure out how this particular substance got into my system,” Wright told reporters at the team’s spring training complex. “At the end of the day, it falls on me to try to prevent that. And unfortunately somewhere it got into my body and I don’t know how. But it is what it is and I’ve just got to move on from it.

“That’s what’s frustrating about it. I worked my butt off this offseason since getting the surgery. I feel like I’m in a good spot. From an offseason drug test, this comes up. I’ve been dealing with it.”

Wright is ineligible to play in any postseason games this year and will lose about half his salary of $1,375,000. Last year’s suspension cost him $94,624 of his $1.1 million salary.

“Obviously disappointed,” Cora said. “It’s something that we didn’t expect. We’ll adjust.”

The only other player to test positive for growth hormone under the big league program was Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Josh Ravin in 2016. Four players have tested positive for growth hormone under the minor league program since 2015.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang works out at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122456097-19d7cec98cbc4966ac782d69eac7e000.jpgPittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang works out at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pittsburgh Pirates infielders Jung Ho Kang and Colin Moran, background, work out at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122456097-c5da638327ba42e984a41388392e677c.jpgPittsburgh Pirates infielders Jung Ho Kang and Colin Moran, background, work out at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang walks across the field at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122456097-b80020f6a24b49a0a35abd21c5a6f072.jpgPittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang walks across the field at their spring training baseball facility in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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