Now, Hart will have to wait until the final day of May to even be considered for a Major League roster spot.
2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
"You get into the mindset where you think that you're going to be the guy that comes back in six months," Hart said. "You look at Wes Welker in the NFL and how he came back in four months. I was looking at him and saying, 'Yeah, I can do it in four!'"
Welker, a wide receiver with the New England Patriots, underwent left knee surgery in February 2010 and returned to the practice field exactly four months later.
"It is disappointing," Hart said. "I never envisioned it taking this long. But now that it has happened, there is time for me to get into some games and establish some rhythm."
The lengthy recovery is just the latest frustration for Hart, who has had little go right since the Pirates acquired him from the Cubs in a five-player trade at the 2009 Trade Deadline. Slotted into the rotation immediately after arriving in Pittsburgh, Hart labored on his way to a 1-8 record and a 6.92 ERA in 10 starts to finish that year.
Command was Hart's primary issue, and those command problems became only more exaggerated when Hart flopped in his chance to earn a rotation spot last spring. Hart's delivery got so out of whack that the right-hander was sent down to Minor League camp with two weeks left.
"It was hard to deal with," Hart said. "It was more frustrating because I felt I was some slight adjustments away from being there. The biggest thing for me was I didn't make Spring Training fun last year."
The trials of last season left Hart with renewed perspective when he reported to camp this year. It was a simple change in philosophy, but one Hart hopes will ensure that he not only returns to the mound, but has success when he does.
He wants to make baseball fun again.
"Not that I ever took baseball for granted before, but I think I've always been the guy before that took it -- I don't want to say too serious -- but took everything very seriously," Hart said. "I took my work seriously and I took my results seriously. With me, each start kind of built on each other last spring. I was frustrated and the frustration kept mounting."
Hart is out of options this season, though the Bucs now have additional time to evaluate how he might fit into the team's future. A bullpen role might be where the righty eventually ends up. That is assuming, of course, that Hart gets back to full health and also regains the command that made him a once-promising prospect in the Cubs' Minor League system.
If he can do both, it's not unreasonable to expect Hart to be back in Pittsburgh this summer. Until then, he will continue to build up his arm by pitching in extended Spring Training and a rehab program.
"My biggest thing is I want to reward everyone that has stuck by me through this whole rehab process," Hart said. "To see how many people still continued to believe in me and wanted me to succeed meant a lot. There are a lot of people here that have been extremely supportive of everything I've been through."