BRADENTON, Fla. — Kevin Hart might be walking his way out of the Pittsburgh Pirates' starting rotation.
Hart walked six of the 12 batters he faced, failing to make it out of the second inning in the Pirates' 6-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.
Hart came into spring training as the favorite to win the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but the right-hander has struggled with his control. He threw 53 pitches, only 19 for strikes, and reached three-ball counts on nine batters — even hitting Ramon Santiago with a 3-0 pitch.
“My fastball had good life and my sinker had good movement,” Hart said. “When I made pitches in the zone, I was able to get guys out. It's the 34 I threw out of the zone that got me into trouble.”
In four outings this spring, Hart has pitched 4 2-3 innings and walked 13 of the 30 batters he's faced. His ERA is 15.43.
The Pirates acquired Hart from the Chicago Cubs last summer on the day before the trading deadline. Eager to see what they'd gotten, management hoped he would grab hold of a rotation job this spring.
Instead, Hart's struggles have kept rookie right-hander Daniel McCutchen in the mix. McCutchen, who so far this spring has been used in middle innings, will start in his next outing.
“I came into this spring feeling good and I still feel good,” Hart said. “The most frustrating thing is that I'm not transferring the work I do in the bullpen to the mound.”
Hart has one minor league option remaining, so it's possible he could begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.
With three off days in the first three weeks of the season, the Pirates won't need to use their fifth starter regularly until the end of April. That could give Hart extra time to correct his flaws.
“We're still in the evaluation process,” manager John Russell said. “We still like what Kevin can bring, but at some point he's got to get it done.”
Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson worked four innings and allowed two runs on four hits. He walked one and struck out three.
Robertson likely will be Detroit's fourth starter this season. He battled injuries last season and had surgery in June to remove benign tumors clustered near his elbow. He also had an operation in November to repair a torn muscle and an impinged nerve in his groin.
The injuries are behind him, but so are Robertson's days as a power pitcher. This spring, he said, his fastball has been in the upper 80s.
“I'm a different pitcher,” Robertson said. “I feel strong. I can still get in there, as long as I change speeds. You've got to get a hitter to look at different speeds and planes and things like that.”
NOTES: Pirates SS Ronny Cedeno (hand laceration) took batting practice in the cages Wednesday morning and reported no problems. “It feels much better,” Cedeno said. ... Pirates closer Octavio Dotel (strained oblique) will pitch one inning Thursday in a minor league game at Pirate City. It will be his first outing this spring. ... Tigers pitchers Joel Zumaya (9.64 ERA in four outings) and Max Scherzer (11.37 ERA in three outings) will pitch simulated games Thursday.