Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Corey Hart may have gotten the break he needed.
In the top of the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, Hart hit what would be a routine fly ball out to shallow center field. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez and centerfielder Adam Eaton converged towards where the ball was landing, but both stopped and the ball dropped in for a hit. Ramirez looked at Eaton and shrugged, and Hart picked up his third single of the night. He finished the game 3-3 at the plate.
The 33-year-old has struggled most of the year, and for a time seemed like he was becoming a forgotten man at risk of being released.
When the Pirates signed Hart during the off-season it was envisioned he would serve as the right-handed platoon partner to pair with Pedro Alvarez at first base.
It was a low-risk, high-reward signing as Hart was only given a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, with added incentives that could possibly double his salary. Hart hit 143 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2007-2012 seasons, but missed all of 2013 due to knee surgery, and then had a dreadful 2014 with the Seattle Mariners.
The hope for the Pirates was that if Hart was limited to facing mostly left-handed pitchers that it would help keep his knee fresh and allow the veteran to display some of the power he showed with the Brewers.
And that hope looked like it might be reality early on. Hart collected a hit in his first three pinch-hit at-bats in 2015 – one being a home run – while contributing four RBIs.
But that hope did not last long.
On Sunday, Hart had his first start since May 16, which was also only his second appearance in a June game. He followed with a pinch-hit at-bat Tuesday, and then started again Wednesday and Thursday. The goal for Hart was to jumpstart him back into his early season form by facing more left-handed pitchers, whom he hits better against.
Prior to Thursday’s game, Hart’s results in June were nothing short of dreadful. He failed to reach base in his first eight at-bats, while striking out six times. Before Thursday his last hit came on May 24, and he hasn’t had an extra base hit since April 28. For the year, Hart is batting .220, while his OPS is at .545.
Hart also appears to have fallen out of favor in the field. The Pirates have shown they prefer utility man Sean Rodriguez as the top backup at first base, and a plethora of other players in right field.
Thursday’s game could be an aberration, but it could be the break Hart needed to get his groove back.
At least he better hope he’s found his rhythm. His value to the Pirates is his bat, but Hart looks overwhelmed at times at the plate and may find himself out of a job if that continues.
The Pirates have shown a willingness to part ways with veterans mid-season during the Neal Huntington-era, as guys like Jayson Nix, Brandon Inge, John McDonald, Erik Bedard and Matt Morris (sorry for reminding everyone about him) were designated for assignment during seasons in which they struggled.
Hart could join them if he cannot build on Thursday’s game.