Hart Getting Into a Rhythm

DES MOINES -- The Cubs have found what they've been looking for out of right-hander Kevin Hart at Class AAA Iowa, and that is consistency.

Hart began the year in the bullpen at Iowa and got off to a shaky start. In 16 relief appearances, he had a 5.75 ERA and a .272 average against in 20 1/3 innings.

Since moving into the starting rotation, though, Hart has come on strong. He has a 1.38 ERA in five starts now and has lowered his season ERA to 3.30 in 46 1/3 innings overall. He has 50 strikeouts to 17 walks on the season.

"There's no doubt Kevin has pitches that are major league quality," Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason said. "He just needs to put up some good numbers and wait ... patience.

"The more Kevin throws as a starter, the better rhythm he's going to get. Every start out, he gets a little bit stronger and [goes] longer into the game, and he's getting built up. I anticipate him hitting a wall here pretty soon, but the quality of his strikes and the consistency of his stuff are getting better every start."

Like any pitcher in his situation, the 26-year-old Hart sees the challenges of switching between the roles of a reliever and a starter. It's not the first time he's gone back and forth between those roles, but he says he is more than willing to make changes so he can make an impact with the Cubs.

"I'm up for anything. Whatever they want me to do," Hart said. "I kind of know the situation up here and it's my third year to do it. [I've] kind of been back and forth between roles. I know that they have five really good starters right now and their bullpen is throwing the ball better, too. Whatever they want me to do, I'm more than happy to do it."

In his five starts, Hart has scattered 11 hits in 26 innings for a .128 average against.

"The biggest thing for me is throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters," Hart said. "Early in the season when I struggled, it was because I was 1-0 and 2-0 on every hitter. When you get ahead 0-1 and 0-2, it lets your other pitches come into play a little bit."

Hart's June 11 win over Omaha was an example of that. Hart went a season-high seven innings, giving up only two runs and four hits while recording five strikeouts for his second win of the season.

The key to his success in that game was the same as it has been all along.

"It's a combination of mixing my pitches and throwing strikes," Hart said. "[It's] getting ahead of hitters and trying to keep my pitch count down so I can get seven, eight, or nine innings."

Along with mixing his pitches, Mason is also working with Hart on his command.

"We're trying to get him a little more intense with his fastball command," Mason said. "He's throwing a cutter -- probably one of his best pitches -- plus a curveball and a changeup. The curveball and the changeup are two pitches that as a reliever, you really don't throw very much. But as a starter, we're expanding his usage on that. He's really developing those pretty well."

That is an asset in Hart's cause to make it back to the major leagues. Hart made his big league debut in September, 2007, appearing in eight games and posting a 0.82 ERA. He was added to the Cubs' post-season roster later that year.

A season ago, Hart struggled in 21 appearances with Chicago, going 2-2 with a 6.51 ERA in 27 2/3 innings.

Hart said it's all about consistency at this stage.

"Everybody gets drafted into professional ball because they have ability," Hart said. "I think the guys that keep moving up are the guys that have the ability to consistently have success."

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