BRADENTON, Fla. — Practically every day last winter, Kevin Hart stood in front of a full-length mirror in his home and went through his pitching motion. He was simultaneously looking for flaws and trying to get comfortable with his new overhead mechanics.
Through four spring training outings, it’s clear Hart still has plenty of work to do. Wednesday, he endured another nightmare outing — walking six and plunking one of the 12 batters he faced. The right-hander was slated to work three innings; he lasted less than two.
“Basically, my plan today was just to get ahead of hitters and put them away,” Hart said. “Didn’t do that. It’s frustrating. But at the same time, the stuff is good. I’ve just got to put it together. I know eventually all this work I’m doing is going to carry over to the games. I can’t wait for it to happen.”
Hart’s challenge is repeating his delivery on every pitch. When it works, the ball dances and he gets results like the dandy pitch that got Brandon Inge for a checked-swing strikeout. When it doesn’t …
“I was missing in, then trying to make an adjustment, then over-adjusting,” Hart confessed. “Maybe I was thinking too much instead of just keeping it simple.”
It’s not like Hart’s being squeezed or just missing the zone. Hart thew 34 balls today, and most of them were nowhere near the plate.
“He’s working on it,” manager John Russell said. “He’s made a lot of progress. He just hasn’t been able to take it out to the game yet. You see signs of it, then he reverts. He realizes the position he’s in, and at some point he’s got to equate it to a game.”
For now, the Pirates appear willing to be extra patient with Hart. He remains atop the very short list of candidates for the No. 5 job in the rotation.
It’s likely Hart has earned some patience by showing a good attitude. He did not fight it last year when pitching coach Joe Kerrigan suggested Hart change his mechanics and also start throwing a two-seam fastball.
“I think that was the best thing for me,” Hart said. “Me and Joe agreed on this a long time ago. I see that my stuff is better. The fastball is down and has better life. The problem is, in the bullpen, when I’m smooth and getting behind the ball like we’re working on, it’s fine. Then I get out there in a game and it gets speeded up and I don’t make the adjustment to slow down.”