Pirates select McCutchen as fifth starter
Hart optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis to work on control
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates have a rotation battle no more. Daniel McCutchen will open the season as the club's fifth starter after Kevin Hart's control problems this spring cost him a chance to seize a rotation opening that most thought would be his.
Hart was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday morning as the Pirates made eight more cuts to trim their Spring Training roster to 37. Hart had one option remaining.
McCutchen, on the other hand, performed well last season in Pittsburgh and continued to make a name for himself by throwing strikes all spring. Now, he is primed to be on an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career.
"It feels good," McCutchen said. "I'm not surprised. Not to take anything away from anybody else, but I came in with 100 percent confidence that I was going after this spot. No matter what position I was in, I was approaching it like it was my spot. Maybe, or obviously, that wasn't the case, but that's still the mindset I had. Confidence is a big thing. I have that and I'm going to go out there every day with it, trying to get better."
Although the 27-year-old righty has not yet made a Grapefruit League start this spring, management saw enough from him in two relief appearances and two Minor League starts to give him the first chance at showing he can stick in a big league rotation.
Huntington emphasized on Tuesday that McCutchen wasn't a default choice because of Hart's struggles, but that he won the job through his steady Spring Training performance. McCutchen has allowed one run and one walk in 12 total innings this spring. Eight of those innings came in Minor League games.
With the way the schedule is set up, McCutchen can make two Grapefruit League starts before the Pirates open the season.
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"My arm feels great," McCutchen said. "I'm up to 60 pitches. How many more starts here, I'm not sure. Hopefully, I'll be at 100 pitches by the time the season starts."
McCutchen will make his season debut in Arizona, where the team plays its second series of the year. With two scheduled off-days soon after, the club will then skip McCutchen's spot the next two times through the rotation. That means McCutchen would be in line to make his second start during the Pirates' April 23-25 series in Houston.
McCutchen has had a taste of the Majors, having made his big league debut late last season. He made six starts for the Pirates in the final five weeks of the season. He recorded his first win in the last start and allowed 17 earned runs in 36 1/3 innings. He walked 11, struck out 19 and pitched six innings in all but one of those six starts.
Hart, who was acquired from the Cubs in a five-player trade last July, pitched in Pittsburgh last year, too, but struggled in much the same ways he did this spring. He went 1-8 with a 6.92 ERA in 10 starts with the Pirates last season.
This spring, Hart made three Grapefruit League starts and was wild in all three. Although he wasn't hit all that hard, he walked 13 in 4 2/3 innings and struggled to find any consistency with his mechanics. He walked another four batters in a Minor League start on Monday that lasted 3 1/3 frames.
"Kevin Hart has some work to do," general manager Neal Huntington said shortly after delivering the news to the right-hander. "We're excited about the potential. We love the stuff. We felt it was best to take him out of camp right now to be able to solidify some things mechanically and be able to get him to trust his stuff and make it play at the Major League level at some point for us."
Rather than consider Hart for a bullpen spot in Pittsburgh, the Pirates will put him in Indianapolis' rotation. The organization is hopeful that Hart can find some delivery and mechanical consistency to put himself back in position to be considered for the big league rotation later in the year.
"In Kevin's case, there are some misfires, but more often than not, it's trying to make the perfect pitch and missing off the plate because his movement takes him off the plate," Huntington said. "On the side, he's been outstanding. He cares. He cares a lot. He may care too much, so he puts the pressure of the world on himself. We've got to get him into a trusting mindset and let that natural ability play out. He's going to be fine."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.