Hart Taking Nothing for Granted

Right-hander Kevin Hart's ascension through the Cubs' system in 2007 culminated in him receiving the organization's annual award for Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He then capped that off by earning a spot on the team's playoff roster. But with Cubs pitchers and catchers set to report to Arizona Wednesday, Hart knows that any success he had last year doesn't guarantee anything.

Cubs pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz., Wednesday, and among them will be Hart, who led the club's farm system with 12 wins and 131 strikeouts while posting a 3.99 ERA – a remarkable turnabout considering the 25-year-old right-hander's poor start to the season.

In spite of that start, Hart put his struggles and subsequent worries behind while becoming one of the hottest pitchers in the Cubs' system in the second half.

He recently delved into his off-season workload and spent time reflecting on the 2007 season as he prepares for a new season.

* * *
Seeing as how you got up to the big leagues last year and had a fair amount of success there, has that changed the way you prepare for the year ahead?

KEVIN HART: No. The off-season itself is a little shorter. Even if you make the playoffs in the minor leagues, you usually are done and out of there by the fourth or the fifth (of September). It was a full month shorter and now it's starting almost a full month earlier, so it's almost two whole months shorter. At the same time, I walked away from last season really not wanting it to end. I felt good; I was throwing well; everything was going well and when you finally get to the level you've been wanting your whole life, you don't want it to end. I feel real, real fresh and ready to go.

How much does it sting, being swept in the playoffs by Arizona?

HART: It stings a lot, especially for the guys that were there the whole season. They fought through a lot of stuff. Even for me, it hurts a lot because when you're in the minor leagues and in the playoffs, it's always fun to try and win, but it's not quite at the same level. Once you get to the major leagues, you realize this is what you've been playing for your whole life. You're throwing a pitch in the playoffs and it's like every pitch you threw before that (was) pretending like you were pitching in the big leagues, and now here you are pitching for the most coveted prize in baseball.

You would figure to be one of the guys bidding for a spot in the starting rotation or at the very least a bullpen job this spring. Have the Cubs talked to you about what opportunities you'll have to make the club out of Spring Training?

HART: No, I'm looking at it the same way – going into camp and earning a job anyway way I can. Whatever the job is, I'm fine with. Whatever they need me to do, I'll do it. After being in the playoffs last year, even though it was only three games, it really left a taste of the things I want to accomplish and what I want the Chicago Cubs to accomplish. I want to win a World Series; that's the ultimate goal and the only thing I'm focusing on.

One of the primary things you worked on last year was the development of your cut-fastball. Have you mixed anything up this off-season in terms of pitch focus?

HART: I wanted to develop a little more of a consistent changeup. But for the most part, the biggest emphasis for me has been on my actual fastball. After being [in Chicago] for a month and a half, I kind of realized that the biggest key to pitching up there and having success is commanding your fastball and being able to throw it where you want it. That's one of the things I think I got better with, but after being up there I realized there are a lot of guys that have a lot better command with their fastballs. Everything I throw is kind of off my fastball: my sinker or my cut-fastball. I figure, why not take that regular four-seam fastball and figure out how to put it where I want it?

Once you realize how much you can command that pitch, and how much it can open up all the other pitches for you, I think that was the biggest thing I noticed and the biggest thing I talked with Mike Harkey and Larry (Rothschild) about. Even in the off-season when I talked to them, I watched a couple of videos of me pitching. I said I did OK, but I didn't really throw as many (straight) fastballs as I thought I did. To me, just being in the playoffs was one of those things where I wish I had thrown more fastballs instead of walking people or pitching around people.

Is the basic four-seamer a pitch that maybe gets overlooked in your arsenal?

HART: Especially out of the bullpen, I was having a lot of success with that cut-fastball and I didn't think the hitters were adjusting so much. It was one of those things where every time I went out, I was having success with it. But I think maybe I fell in love with it a little too much. I can't say I hate the pitch, but I looked at it in the off-season, and everybody thought all I threw were cut-fastballs. I really do throw more than just that pitch. While I feel like that was a pitch that was huge to me in opening up a lot of things, I know at the same time that I don't think it's the pitch that really made my year. I know that at the time I started throwing it, I had more success. But I think it was more because I was figuring out how to pitch (in general).

There has been a lot of talk about the Cubs going after Brian Roberts of the Orioles, and thus a lot of young players such as yourself have been mentioned as trade bait. Is that, the trade rumors, something you pay attention to?

HART: Well, I just came from the Orioles and when they traded me, I wasn't really worried about them trading back for me. It's kind of a weird thing. I try not to pay too much attention to it. I got traded last off-season and I looked at is as a great opportunity for me. I came to an organization that made a move and traded a major league player for me. It is part of the business and having been through it last year, I've learned it's not even worth worrying about it because whatever happens, you have to try to make it work out for the best.

I haven't been distracted at all by it. I don't think there was ever any point where I thought I was going to get traded. If you worry about it and don't get traded, you look back and wonder why you worried about it.

How confident are you heading into camp after the year you had in '07?

HART: I'm not going to take anything for granted. I had some success last year, but I don't think that guarantees anybody anything. Especially with the situation the Cubs are in right now, they're trying to win a World Series. The more arms they bring in, the better. The way I look at competition is that it brings the best out of everybody. The more guys they have in camp are more guys I have to compete with and more motivation for me. I saw when they signed Jon Lieber and acquired a couple of relievers in the off-season. I didn't look at it as a negative thing; I looked at it as though nothing is going to be given. I knew that already, so there was no change in anything.

I've never given up on myself. When I struggled, I always knew I was better than the way I was pitching. I think the key for me is eliminating the slow starts. I learned from that mentally last year. The times I've struggled the last two years was probably the best thing that happened to me. It made me reevaluate where I was and what I was doing.

Northsiders Report Top Stories