SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles’ spring training strikeout leader heading into yesterday’s game was left-hander Donnie Hart, a reliever with five innings under his belt. He was scored upon in just his first outing. Surface stuff that presents an argument for his inclusion in the opening day bullpen.
However, Hart still can be optioned to the minors and the Orioles continue to sort through their choices for left-handed relief beyond Richard Bleier. Rule 5 Nestor Cortes Jr. could be a bullpen piece if he fails to win the job as fifth starter. Josh Edgin and Joely Rodriguez have impressed manager Buck Showalter, the former back in camp following the birth of his third child.
Hart has surrendered six hits and walked two batters, and opponents are batting .300 against him. His next outing is expected to come today against the Twins in Fort Myers and there’s a sense in camp that he needs to make up ground despite his four straight scoreless appearances.
“I feel all right,” Hart said yesterday while sitting at his locker. “Mechanically still trying to get everything in rhythm. I’ll throw like two good pitches and I’ll get out of rhythm and throw one bad pitch and three good ones. So it’s just ironing those out. That’s what you’ve got to go through right now to get everything going. It’s so early right now. But other than that, I feel pretty good.”
Certain starters and relievers on the staff can work on mechanics, experiment with pitches, throw something they’d normally withhold in a specific situation and know that they’re still running down the orange carpet on March 29. Andrew Cashner referenced it Sunday night. It’s also true for guys like Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens. But Hart doesn’t have the same luxury. He’s refining his delivery and still needing positive results.
“Honestly, I don’t think about it while I’m out there,” he said. “I’ll never think about mechanics while I’m on the mound with another team in the batter’s box, but when it’s all said and done, you know what happened. When you sit down after the game is over with and you go over it, you can make that adjustment, but I don’t think about it like that. Every time I take the mound I’m trying to keep a spot or earn a spot. That’s just my mentality and I think I’ll always take that with me.”
Hart debuted last month against the Rays and allowed two runs and two hits in one inning. He’s strung together four scoreless innings with four hits and two walks.
“Other than the first outing, I think I’ve thrown the ball really well,” he said. “There’s been times when I’ve lost location and stuff like that, but other than that, I think I’ve thrown well so far.”
Escaping a jam Saturday against the Pirates would be categorized as a positive development except for how he got into it. Allowing two singles and walking left-handed hitting Casey Hughston, a former third-round pick who came over from their minor league camp. Hart struck out Austin Meadows and Sean Rodriguez, but he knows how it looks to lose to a lefty who doesn’t have a name on the back of his jersey.
Twenty-two pitchers remain in camp after yesterday’s cuts, including closer Zach Britton, who’s on the 60-day disabled list, and Gabriel Ynoa, who came down with shin splints and won’t make the club. Hart hopes to be among the final 12, assuming the Orioles don’t go with an extra position player on opening day. He has no idea whether it’s going to happen.
He’s getting a feel for his pitches, but not the situation.
“I don’t worry about that stuff,” he said. “I try to control what I can control. They’re going to make the decisions based on what they feel and where the cards fall, they fall. For me, as long as I make sure I can put my best foot forward, that’s all I can do.”
A track record can be an asset and Hart came up from Double-A Bowie in 2016, allowed one run in 18 1/3 innings and held left-handers to a .132 average. He slipped last summer, posting a 3.71 ERA and 1.397 WHIP in 43 2/3 innings and riding the Triple-A shuttle. Left-handers had a .273/.371/.403 slash line with nine walks in 89 plate appearances.
“I don’t know how (Showalter) feels about that,” Hart said. “I know I’m certainly capable of pitching better than I did last year. I had some good runs there for about two months, three months in the middle of the season where I should be pitching, but the beginning of the season and the end of the season I had some rough patches and that’s the nature of the beast as a reliever. But it’s putting it all together in a full season and that’s what you saw guys like (Mychal) Givens do last year.
“Givens put a great season together and it’s those seasons that I’m trying to get to.”
Hart will find out soon whether the first steps in his latest journey begin in Triple-A.
* I’ve been fielding lots of questions about the Orioles’ negotiations with Lance Lynn before he signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Twins. He’s starting against them today in Fort Myers.
I’m told that the Orioles spoke “at length” with Lynn’s agent on many occasions right up to the time that the right-hander agreed to terms with the Twins. He was seeking a two-year deal from the Orioles and discussions included the possibility of a club option. However, it didn’t come together before Lynn accepted the Twins’ offer.
As for Alex Cobb, who’s still on the market, the Orioles know that he wants more than one year. Lynn’s deal won’t get it done at this point. They’ve remained in contact with his agent, as well.