Hart Stretching Out

When Cubs manager Lou Piniella called Kevin Hart into his office to tell him that he was being sent down earlier this month, the right-hander at first wasn't quite sure what to make of the news or what it meant for his future role. Now he has an idea.

"At the time, Lou kind of mentioned that they wanted to send me down to get a couple of starts in," recalled Hart, who made 10 appearances in relief with Chicago this season prior to being sent down. "I didn't know if it was just for the sake of getting some consistent work or if there was a possibility that I'd become a starter again.

"The more I'm down here, the more it looks like they're serious about stretching me out and getting me some innings," added Harts.

Since being sent down, Hart has made four starts and has gradually increased his pitch count and number of innings with each outing. He tossed five innings in Triple-A Iowa's 5-4 win at Omaha on Monday, throwing a season-high 82 pitches and surrendering two earned runs and five hits while striking out six batters.

Hart was a starter all throughout his minor league career until last September when the Cubs promoted him as a late-season call-up. He took to the bullpen right away by posting a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings, and was added to Chicago's playoff roster.

Having gone back to starting games, Hart says he has been pleased with his performance thus far at Iowa, which includes a 2.87 ERA and a .211 average against.

"It's definitely been an adjustment for me, coming from a reliever's mentality to a starter's mentality," Hart said. "It's been good in just helping me learn how to go back to keeping the pitch count down. I'm trying to get hitters out with four pitches or less. It's been nice to get back into the routine of setting hitters up and going through the lineup more than one time. It's been a beneficial learning experience for me."

Going from the bullpen to the rotation has also resulted in Hart reopening his full repertoire at hitters – in particular his changeup and breaking ball.

"Out of the bullpen, I was mainly fastball, cutter, throwing those pitches" said Hart. "My breaking ball and changeup, I didn't throw them a whole lot. I don't want to say they deteriorated, but I kind of lost my feel and my command with them just because I wasn't ever throwing them in the game.

"I've been working on throwing my changeup more and trying to get that back into my arsenal. When you're not pitching and not throwing bullpens, you kind of lose the feel for it. My goal here is to learn how to command all four of my pitches again."

While Hart is all business, he's also enjoying some fun with being surrounded by pitchers that – like himself – will make the return trip to Chicago one day.

"It's fun to be able to watch Sean Marshall and Rich Hill, and even Randy Keisler and Randy Wells," said Hart. "All those guys have been in the big leagues."

The same now holds true for hard-throwing right-hander Jose Ascanio, Hart's teammate at Iowa that was recently recalled by Chicago. Ascanio was brought up when the club placed veteran Chad Fox on the disabled list on Tuesday.

Hart said that it's fun to see young players like Ascanio get promoted.

"When young guys go up that you've played with, you always root for them," he said. "If one young guy does well, it opens the eyes of everyone up there and they're thinking that ... maybe another young guy can do well."

Hart will surely get his chance to go back up in the future. He said it was a little surprising to be sent down, but added that he's looking at it from a positive side.

"Which is the fact that I was able to come down here, get better, work on improving, and get back to the point that I was at last year," Hart said. "That's the way I'm approaching it. It's been beneficial to come in and get the work here that I've been able to get in. I'm just looking at it as an opportunity to get better."

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