SweetSpot: Kevin Hart
- All Daniel McCutchen wanted was an opportunity. He never asked for anything else, though he knew in his line of work promises can’t be kept.
When he began spring training, the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander was told he was going to battle Kevin Hart for the final spot in the pitching rotation — nothing more, nothing else.
The 27-year-old never heard anything else until Monday when he was named the fifth starter and Hart was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis to find his control.
McCutchen says spring training numbers don’t mean much, but in his case they do. In four Grapefruit League innings,
he struck out three without issuing a walk. In 12 total innings (including minor league outings), he allowed one walk. On the flip side, Hart walked 13 in 4 2/3 innings.
“I have been pounding the strike zone and throughout my career I haven’t walked many guys,” McCutchen said. “My goal in camp was to show that I am all about forcing contact and getting guys out within the zone. My philosophy here is that even if they hit it hard we have a great outfield.”
McCutchen made his major league debut last year when he started six games for the Pirates and compiled a 4.21 ERA in 36.1 innings. He says he is a much better pitcher now.
“In the last couple of weeks, I felt good with my breaking ball and my slider has gotten a lot better, which will elevate my game,” he said. “My change has always been there. It has been a big plus pitch for me. I got a lot of outs last year in the big leagues with it. I am thinking of adding another breaking ball pitch.”
He'd better be a better pitcher this year, because last year he was really, really lucky to post that 4.21 ERA in his six starts. In McCutchen's defense, in 43 career Triple-A starts he's 20-15 with a 3.72 ERA and an excellent ratio (4.45) of strikeouts to walks. Of course, most people think pitchers who rely on changeups have a rougher transition to the Show than other sorts.
All of which is moot, for the moment. As long as Kevin Hart's battling Steve Blass Disease, McCutchen can throw as many changeups as he likes. Because with Charlie Morton ahead of him, and Hart and a cast of nobodies filling the rotation down in Indianapolis, McCutchen might be the safest No. 5 starter in the National League.
- Dempster had been scheduled to pitch Tuesday night against Atlanta and said he hoped he would only miss three starts, including one after the All-Star break.
But manager Lou Piniella said that was an optimistic view and that after talking with trainer Mark O'Neal, Dempster could miss up to three weeks and maybe a month.
The Cubs recalled right-hander Kevin Hart from Triple-A Iowa, one day after he'd been optioned back to the minors, and plan to put him in the rotation. He'll start Wednesday against the Braves.
Carlos Zambrano, on three days rest, made the start Tuesday night in Dempster's place.
"We were healthy for a day," Piniella said. On Monday, the Cubs had activated Aramis Ramirez, Reed Johnson and Angel Guzman off the disabled list. And now they've put one of their most reliable pitchers right back on.
"Dempster is sick about this and so am I," Pinella said. "It's something you never expect to happen. Just a freak thing."
Dempster is 5-5 with a 4.09 ERA in 17 starts for the Cubs this season. He made the switch back to starter last season after being the Cubs' closer for three years. He went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 33 starts and was picked for the All-Star team in 2008.
Meanwhile, it's time for Hart to get his shot. He's 26, and in various stints with the Cubs he's pitched only 44 innings, all of them as a reliever. In the minors, though, he's often been a starter, and apparently a pretty good one. Career-wise, he's got a 4.09 ERA as a starter, with eight strikeouts (and 3.3 walks) per nine innings. In the majors, he's throwing plenty hard, averaging nearly 93 miles an hour with his fastball (though he's not likely to throw as hard when starting).
Hart's 26, and there's probably a good reason or two for the Cubs never having tried him as a starter with the big club before. Let's find out, though. I suspect that Hart isn't as good as Dempster, but maybe a tick or two better than Marshall. At worst, he's a luxury for the Cubs, as most teams don't have an option like Hart when a rotation mainstay does some fool thing and breaks a big toe.