Pirates Notebook: How long until we see Kevin Hart?
Earlier today it looked like Kevin Hart would be the starting pitcher tomorrow for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Instead, Hart made his regularly scheduled start for Indianapolis, leaving Chris Jakubauskas as the starter tomorrow. In that start, Hart was excellent, with one run allowed on five hits in five innings, along with a walk and five strikeouts. This was against the same Louisville team that Hart pitched three no-hit innings against last week, allowing a walk and striking out three.
Hart had his struggles in Spring Training, and carried some of those over to the first game of the season. In that outing, Hart allowed two runs on two hits, with three walks, two strikeouts, and a homer. He was ejected in the fourth inning for throwing a pitch at the first batter of the inning, Carlos Santana. Hart threw 66 pitches, with only 35 going for strikes.
Hart was suspended for throwing at Santana, although he made a relief appearance before going on suspension. Hart came on to relieve Brad Lincoln, with Indianapolis up 2-0 over Louisville. Hart pitched three no-hit innings, allowing just one walk, and striking out three. This time he threw 37 pitches, with 22 going for strikes.
Hart served his suspension, then returned on four days rest to start against Toledo. Hart had two wild pitches, but overall he looked excellent through the first four innings. Hart allowed one run on two hits through the first four innings, with a walk and six strikeouts. His breaking ball was looking sharp, not only getting swinging strikeouts, but catching people looking on well placed balls in the zone. Hart allowed two runs in the fifth inning before being pulled. Overall he threw 80 pitches, with 49 for strikes.
Then there was tonight’s game. Hart threw two wild pitches, which gives him four in 15.1 innings. Hart also threw 87 pitches, 53 for strikes.
Hart now has a 16:7 K/BB ratio in 15.1 innings, which amounts to a 9.39 K/9, a 4.11 BB/9, and a 0.59 HR/9 ratio. Hart is also holding hitters to a .193 BAA. The downside to all of this is that we’ve seen this from Hart before. Hart put up similar ratios in 52.1 innings at AAA with the Chicago Cubs in 2009, and again in 57.2 innings with the Cubs in 2008.
Hart is another player who has proven he can handle the AAA level. The problem for him is making the jump to the majors. It’s not out of the question to think that Hart can fix his control issues. His 4.39 BB/9 ratio in 2009 with the Pirates would be fine if he could maintain close to a strikeout an inning, although that doesn’t seem likely to carry over to the majors. Even if he cut back to the 3 to 3.50 BB/9 ratio range, that would be acceptable, as long as he maintained the same K/9 ratio we saw from him in 2009 with the Pirates (6.58).
Hart was victimized by some bad luck. He allowed a .372 BABIP an a 60.6% strand rate with the Pirates. The league average for starters is usually in the .300 BABIP range, and the 70% strand rate range. On the flip side, he was incredibly lucky in his time with the Cubs, leading to his 2.60 ERA in 27.2 innings with them. The main thing Hart needs to do is cut back on the walks. He’s showing that this isn’t an issue at the AAA level. The question becomes, when does he get his chance at the major league level?
Before the season I was in favor of Hart over Daniel McCutchen for the fifth starter role. I can understand demoting Hart, considering the Spring he had. Since that point, McCutchen has been ineffective in his major league outings, and Hart has been good in his AAA appearances. After tonight’s start at the AAA level, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Pirates call up Hart to replace McCutchen in the rotation the next time around. The Pirates certainly need a surprise in their rotation, and it would be great if Hart could provide that.