Hart’s “aggression” could get him back to the majors

The same changes that enabled left-hander Donnie Hart to experience some success in spring training also got him back to the majors.

One of the nicest guys in the clubhouse has widened his mean streak.

It’s not a personality disorder. He isn’t undergoing anger-management classes. Hart just slipped into more of an attack mode on the mound.

Hart has made four appearances with the Orioles during two stints - he was optioned before Sunday’s game in Boston - and allowed one earned run with no walks in 4 2/3 innings. Left-handers are 2-for-13 against him.

“Just getting back to what got me here, what gave me success,” he said. “Just being aggressive. Pretty much it. Nothing’s changed. Nothing drastic, at least.

“I think it’s just from, one, the standpoint of being aggressive mentally, and then taking it to them out there on the field. So nothing, really.”

Which brings up the obvious question: How did Hart, who burst onto the major league scene in 2016 with a 0.49 ERA in 22 games after his promotion from Double-A Bowie, suddenly lose that edge?

Doubts crept in as Hart began to struggle last summer, chipping away at his confidence. He rode the Triple-A shuttle and his ERA increased to 3.71 in 51 appearances. His WHIP increased from 0.982 to 1.397 in 43 2/3 innings.

Maybe it was the larger sample size. He pitched in only 22 games in 2016. But it also seemed to go deeper.

Hart-Throws-Orange-Sidebar.jpg“I think anytime you take a step back results-wise, whether it be because executing pitches just wasn’t as high or anything else, balls are falling and you start thinking about it too much, you can get a little tentative, and that’s what I did,” he said. “And it kind of came back and got me a little bit last year. But once the season ended I took a step back and looked at it and realized I wasn’t pitching the way that I normally pitch, so just started the season off trying to get back to what I do and try to ride with it.”

Left-handers were 5-for-38 (.132) against Hart in 2016 and 21-for-77 (.273) last year. He wanted to be viewed as more than just a specialist, but he also couldn’t lose the kind of matchup dependability he showed in his first big league season.

Right-handed hitters have posted a .133 average against Hart in Triple-A this season. The ability to defend himself and work full or multiple innings increases his chances of staying in the majors, though the bullpen is volatile. The number of southpaws can fluctuate depending on the next opponent. It can be influenced by whether the bench holds three or four players.

Hart was optioned Sunday because the Orioles needed to make room for starter David Hess.

“I think when I got called up in ‘16, being used as a lefty specialist was good in a sense because that was my strongest suit and (manager Buck Showalter) knew that and he put me in the best positions,” Hart said. “But as time goes on you want to be able to graduate and be able to move into maybe a sixth- or seventh-inning spot and then later on in your career, hopefully, you’re good enough to where you can be in the eighth- or ninth-inning spot.

“That was one of the things I always wanted to try for, and I tried to do it last year and will try to do it again this year.”

And try to stay off the shuttle.

Hart won’t supplant Richard Bleier, and he was the third lefty in the bullpen after Tanner Scott’s most recent promotion. He claims that he wasn’t tracking the roster movement while pitching at Norfolk, leery of diverting his attention and failing to produce the numbers that would get him back to Baltimore.

“I mean, it will all fall in place when it’s there and when it’s meant to be,” he said. “I can’t really control that. That’s not something that I can really control. All I can do is just try to pitch and set myself up for success, and that’s all I’m trying to do right now.”

Showalter praised Hart on Sunday after the roster move.

“Donnie’s kind of back to being the guy he was before it kind of got away from him a little bit last year,” Showalter said. “He’s attacking, he’s throwing strikes, his tempo’s good, his changeup’s more of a pitch for him.”

Meanwhile, Showalter told the media yesterday in Chicago that Zach Britton will begin his rehab assignment May 30 with Norfolk. Britton will throw a one-inning simulated game on Tuesday and a two-inning sim game Saturday at Tropicana Field before reporting to the Tides.

David Hess appears to be the choice to make Friday night’s start against the Rays.

Infielder Engelb Vielma will undergo surgery later today on his fractured patella, a procedure that was delayed a week to allow for further healing.

Vielma was chasing a foul ball during a May 9 game in Durham when he tripped over a bullpen mound and his knee struck what Hart described as a “cross beam” on the wall.

Hart was sitting against it, watching left fielder Alex Presley’s pursuit of the ball, and Vielma came directly toward him. Hart said Vielma’s spikes actually dug into his leg as he tried to lessen the impact.

It isn’t known at this time whether Vielma will return later in the season, but there’s been speculation that the procedure will include the insertion of multiple screws in the kneecap.

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