Hart has edge of McCutchen for starting job

Just two days into spring training, the Pittsburgh Pirates might

already have settled one of their position battles.

Right-handers Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen were supposed to

duel for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, and recent

first-round draft pick Brad Lincoln was supposed to provide

pressure while starting the season in Triple-A.

On Friday, all indications pointed to Hart as the

front-runner.

In discussing his pitching corps, manager John Russell mentioned

Hart as one of the starters and McCutchen among the bullpen crew.

But when pressed, Russell stopped short of confirming Hart has won

the job.

“There’s competition and he knows it,” Russell said of Hart,

two worked on his delivery over the winter. “He’s going to do

everything he can to make sure he makes a good impression and shows

he’s ready for it. We’ve got some other very good candidates, but

he’s working awfully hard. Time will tell, but he’s in a good

position right now.”

Hart went 1-8 with a 6.92 ERA in 10 starts last season after

being traded to the Pirates.

“We’re working on some new mechanics and a new windup, so it’s

really just muscle memory,” Hart said. “This offseason, I was in

front of the mirror every night, working on getting to the same

points. You have to train your muscles to repeat the motions.”

Hart worked to slow down his delivery so that he would “stay

behind the ball” through his release point. When he does that, his

pitches have more sink.

“He feels a lot more comfortable with (his mechanics),”

Russell said. “You can tell he’s on a mission. Everything he’s

doing, from his PFPs (fielding drills) to his sides, he’s really

focusing on what he’s got going on.”

Hart looked sharp a month ago in minicamp and again on Thursday,

when he threw a 40-pitch bullpen. It was so good, in fact, that the

normally stoic Russell gushed.

“He’s throwing the ball really, really well,” Russell said,

arching eyebrows in emphasis. “So we’re very excited.”

NOTES: OF Ryan Church checked into camp on Friday. Only seven

position players – including Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge,

Delwyn Young and Ronny Cedeno – have not yet been spotted at Pirate

City. The first full-squad workout is Tuesday. … Reliever Jean

Machi was given medical clearance Friday and threw a bullpen

session. He was held out of Thursday’s workout and had extra

physical tests.