Hart makes case for more work with solid performance
Pirates starting pitcher Kevin Hart delivers against the Dodgers during the first inning of yesterday's game in Los Angeles.
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LOS ANGELES -- Pardon the San Gabriel Valley dialect, but, dude, this is soooooo Pirates.
Kevin Hart had his finest start with the Pirates yesterday since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs, and they soon may shut him down for the season.
Like, it figures, right?
"This is what we've been looking for," manager John Russell said after Hart had his longest stretch of scoreless innings as a Pirate (five), limited an opponent to his fewest runs (two on a home run in his final inning) and performed admirably in a 3-1 loss in the finale of a three-game sweep inside sun-baked Dodger Stadium.
• Game: Pirates vs. San Diego Padres, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: : RHP Charlie Morton (3-8, 5.45) vs. RHP Tim Stauffer (4-6, 3.31).
"He's been showing signs of improving each of the last three starts, and a lot of it came to fruition.
"Hopefully, it will continue on."
Therein lies the problem.
How much longer will this go on? Ross Ohlendorf, the Pirates' ace of late, and Hart have long been the subject of management discussion about ending their season early.
Yesterday, after Hart struck out five of the National League West leaders and better resembled the Cubs starter who went 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA before the John Grabow/Tom Gorzelanny trade, Russell's tune seemed to change a mite.
Maybe the Pirates won't park Hart in the garage yet.
"We'll see how his innings are," Russell said.
"He didn't throw a lot last year; he threw 80-something innings. Want to be careful with a physical-type pitcher. Don't want to overtax his arm."
Hart, though, feels as if he's just getting his groove back. He had been fighting his mechanics through a streak where he lost four consecutive starts and won just one of seven since arriving from Chicago.
He had been battling his command to a point where he never threw more than three scoreless innings in a game, and never in succession before notching five in a row to start yesterday. He had been yielding runs in bushels, 31 in his 39 innings before yesterday.
Then he stymied the NL's best-hitting team, which stranded its only baserunner to reach third through his first five innings.
"Joe [Kerrigan, the pitching coach,] and I have definitely put in the hours between starts," said Hart, 26.
"We talked about using our sinker a lot more and just getting ahead. I think I was ahead of more hitters today than I have been in the past."
He threw first-pitch strikes to nine of 10 Dodgers batters at one point. He threw 64 of his 97 pitches for strikes, and he wished he could have one sinker that got away from him back. Matt Kemp deposited that one into the right-center field bleachers, turning around a 1-0 Pirates lead that Hart held for four innings and giving the Dodgers a 2-1 advantage.
Hart left the game after six innings.
His comparative success, he said, was "the result of a lot less thought. Trust your body, trust your stuff, trust your mechanics. I haven't been able to do that in awhile ... Yeah, [losing] weighs on you. You want to win some ballgames. I felt today I took a step in the right direction."
As for the Pirates in general, it was another step into the bucket. Their foot is stuck. They can't extricate themselves. They played three close games with the NL West leaders but lost all three.
"We had a chance all three games to beat them," said Andy LaRoche, a former Dodger.
"Obviously, I don't know if some players were intimidated. But now everybody knows we can beat any team in the big leagues.
"We beat the [Philadelphia] Phillies" two of three when the world champions came to PNC Park in late August.
"We should've beaten these guys two out of three. There's no team that's unbeatable. All it takes is one little thing ..."
"We'd like to be in their situation next year," Hart added of the Dodgers.
"It's one of those things where we've got to take this and learn from it, grow from it."
First Published September 17, 2009 12:00 am