Pirates Spring Training: Hart continues chore of re-inventing himself
Kevin Hart was 1-8 with an ERA near 7.00 after being acquired last season.
Andrew McCutchen shows he can juggle a baseball, too.
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan stood behind the Field 3 batting cage and intoned, "Ready? All right, here we go." With that Wednesday, this No. 5-starter aspirant and early camp candidate for team comeback player of the year threw his most meaningful pitches yet in this spring training.
Kevin Hart wasn't unhittable. Pedro Alvarez took him deep the opposite way once, and Delwyn Young rapped a couple of line drives into right-center field, but, for Hart, it represented another small step toward home plate in the tinkering with his mechanics.
"Kevin's been working hard," Pirates manager John Russell said after Hart and half the pitching staff took two 17-pitch turns against live batters. Russell stood with Kerrigan and watched part of that time. "He was down [in the zone]. Kevin threw the ball well."
- What: Pirates exhibition opener vs. State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota.
- When: 12:05 p.m. Tuesday.
- Next: Bat Yankees, 1:05 p.m. Wednesday. TV: MLB Network.
These alterations started late last season -- 147 days ago and counting, when Hart was finishing off a 1-8 record and 6.92 ERA with the Pirates, for whom he lost his final seven starts after coming from the Chicago Cubs in the John Grabow-Tom Gorzelanny trade.
"Me ending the season the way I did last year ..." Hart, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander, began to explain. "It was kind of one of those situations where you got to learn to walk again."
So Kerrigan and Hart agreed to make adjustments to his windup and mechanics, including a hands-overhead element to the delivery much like the coach did with Ross Ohlendorf.
Hart began implementing the changes at season's end, then repeated them 100-plus times a day -- though not every day -- in front of a full-length mirror back home near Dallas. He came to PNC Park twice and Pirate City once for mini-camp to undergo refresher courses.
He and the coach would tape the sessions. Review. Repeat.
"Baseball's a big muscle-memory sport," Hart said. "So, for me, it was kind of getting to the point where I could get mechanically where I wasn't thinking about it.
The changes, he added, were "nothing radical. There are certain checkpoints you need to get to, and, last year, there were a lot of them I wasn't getting to. I was kind of just rushing through my delivery. It has a huge effect on your arm slot, your arm angle and the trajectory of the ball when it comes out of your hand ... If anything, after I got traded, my velocity was going up. But it wasn't good velocity. It was straight, flat, 90-something. You'd rather take 90 with sink and downhill than 95 straight down the middle."
In that seven-game losing streak, Hart allowed 48 hits and 22 walks in 28 innings, his pitches elevating to the batters' delight. Wednesday, he kept the ball low against his left-handed opposition, except for the couple that Young and Alvarez hit in their first swings, and a high fastball that Alvarez swung and missed right after rapping that home run to left field. This swinging strike ended Hart's opening round, to which Kerrigan complimented, "Beautiful. Good first inning."
Young and Alvarez each hit a line drive in the second round, but, of course, they had the benefit of having each pitch called aloud beforehand by the pitcher.
"He looks good," said Jason Jaramillo, who caught Hart for the first time in camp Wednesday.
"His ball's jumping," Young said. "It gets halfway to the plate, and it's like it hits a slick spot."
A few days past the one-year anniversary of Russell's contract extension through this season, owner Bob Nutting gave his entire management team a vote of confidence. But he added that extensions weren't a subject to be productively discussed in public right now.
"I have a lot of faith in the leadership that is put in place, both on field and in the front office," said Nutting, whose general manager, Neal Huntington, also is in the last year of a contract.
"They're following the plan we put in place. They're executing at a very high level. Had an extraordinarily difficult two years to get where we are now.
"It's not a great topic [so early in] spring training to speculate on who's going to be here. But what you have is a solid leadership group with full support of the organization moving forward. I feel stability is much more important than second-guessing or speculation ..."
Bobby Crosby worked at first base, Steve Pearce in the outfield and Ramon Vazquez at second base on what became Utility Wednesday at camp. Crosby played 54 games there in Oakland last season, his first at the position. "Last year was the first time I played anywhere other than short," Crosby said. "It's all a new experience. I feel more comfortable [then before at first], but, of course, my most comfortable spot is shortstop."
• Octavio Dotel, who Wednesday missed a second consecutive day with discomfort in his left side, aims to return to practice Friday.
• Brendan Donnelly was given a veteran's day to rest instead of pitching live BP.
First Published February 25, 2010 12:00 am