Hart has edge of McCutchen for starting job

BY foxsports • February 19, 2010

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.

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