McCutchen, Hart will start; only one in bigs

McCutchen, Hart will start; only one in bigs

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Daniel McCutchen and Kevin Hart will have their next showing in an ongoing audition to win the final spot in the rotation over the next few days. McCutchen is scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game on Monday, while Hart will make a start in the middle of the week.

While the Pirates are maintaining that the decision remains too close to call, at least one aspect of the competition is looking settled: Whoever does not win that rotation spot will likely start the season in Triple-A Indianapolis' rotation.

The club had been considering a bullpen role for the loser of the battle. However, the need to have a sixth capable starter ready in case of immediate injury or ineffectiveness to anyone in the big league rotation appears too important to relegate one of the right-handers to the 'pen.

"This is where the short- and the long-term battle each other," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Ideally, you'd like to have eight guys who can start, so it may be a little out of their control because we want the organizational depth.

"They both could very capably pitch in the bullpen, but I don't think either one of them wants to be a reliever for the rest of their career. With both of these guys where they are and where we are as an organization, it would probably be better to start them."

Both Hart and McCutchen have at least one option remaining, so either could be sent to the Minors with no issue at the end of Spring Training.

While the Pirates have always preferred to keep Hart and McCutchen starting, there was concern that the club would have too great a bullpen need to enjoy that luxury. However, with plenty of capable relief candidates emerging this spring, the Pirates don't look like they're going to be pinned into having no other choice than to use McCutchen or Hart in the 'pen.

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As a result, the loser of the battle will anchor Indianapolis' rotation along with Brad Lincoln, who is on the outside looking in when it comes to earning an Opening Day roster spot.

So far, McCutchen has had better results than Hart. Keep in mind, though, that results are not the primary evaluation tool in spring.

In two starts, McCutchen has allowed one run on three hits. He has not walked a batter and has struck out three. The right-hander was especially impressive in his last outing, one in which he faced the minimum in his two innings.

"He's a command-type guy, and I think each outing he's going to do better," manager John Russell. "As Spring Training goes on, his command will keep getting better and we should see some pretty good innings out of him."

In three innings, Hart has allowed seven runs on four hits and seven walks. He has one strikeout. Despite the jarring results, the consensus after his most recent start was that progress is still being made.

"Kevin continues to show the stuff," Huntington said. "It's just a matter of the delivery and the mentality and just trusting it and attacking. When he does that, he's a Major League pitcher, without a doubt. When he doesn't, he's going to fall behind. We're just working hard to try to help him believe it and trust it and let it happen."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.