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Hart tosses shutout in Triple-A debut

Red Sox lefty scatters five hits, fans eight in first Pawtucket start
Kyle Hart has struck out 68 batters over 64 2/3 innings over two levels this season. (Pawtucket Red Sox)
May 30, 2019

Kyle Hart was scheduled to make his Triple-A debut Tuesday, but both ends of the PawSox doubleheader were postponed by rain. Instead of bumping Hart to Wednesday, the PawSox went with Joe Smith in the opener of the twinbill and a bullpen game in the nightcap. Had Hart started any

Kyle Hart was scheduled to make his Triple-A debut Tuesday, but both ends of the PawSox doubleheader were postponed by rain. Instead of bumping Hart to Wednesday, the PawSox went with Joe Smith in the opener of the twinbill and a bullpen game in the nightcap. Had Hart started any of those seven-inning contests, he couldn't have accomplished what he did Thursday for the first time in his four-year career.
The 26-year-old left-hander tossed a nine-inning shutout, scattering five hits and striking out eight, to lead Pawtucket to a 4-0 win over Lehigh Valley at McCoy Stadium. Hart's gem was the first Triple-A nine-inning shutout this season, and the first PawSox one since Shawn Haviland on June 8, 2017.

"My approach as a starting pitcher is always that I want to get as many outs as I can," he said. "Today, there are 27 of them. In other games, there might be 21. But specifically today -- with everything happening at the Major League level -- all I wanted to do for these guys is bring some depth to this team."

Hart retired the first seven IronPigs before giving up a single to Rob Brantly in the third inning that just eluded the glove of shortstop Chad De La Guerra in shallow left field. Lehigh Valley's biggest threat came an inning later when Andrew Romine's double to left was followed by a single by Ali Castillo, putting runners at the corners with one out. Hart escaped the jam by getting Mitch Walding to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play on the first pitch. He proceeded to set down 12 Lehigh Valley batters in a row and stranded Malquin Canelo at second after a leadoff single in the ninth.
The nine frames were a career high for Hart, who was drafted in the 19th round in 2016 out of the University of Indiana, trumping his eight frames for Double-A Portland on May 27, 2018. He threw 108 pitches -- 74 for strikes -- the fourth time in 10 starts this season he has eclipse the century mark.
"For me, getting ahead was big," said Hart, who delivered first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 31 batters he faced. "I'm always trying to stay out of counts, where I'm behind and have to climb back out. Guys up here especially are going to punish you the second you fall behind. So for me, strike one was crucial, and from there, I could steer the at-bat the way I wanted it to go."
The Cincinnati native was called up to Pawtucket on Tuesday after opening at Portland, where he spent the entire 2018 season. He had a 2.91 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP over 55 2/3 innings this year for Boston's Double-A affiliate. His 60 strikeouts over that span stand tied for fifth-most in the Eastern League.
Gameday box score
The southpaw has grown in the K category in 2019. Hart fanned only 16.7 percent of the batters he faced for the Sea Dogs last year, but that number climbed to 27 percent this season before his promotion. That rate ranks sixth in the Eastern League, ahead of prospects such as Binghamton's Anthony Kay (25.7), New Hampshire's Patrick Murphy (25.4) and Erie's Casey Mize (24.5). Hart typically sports an average fastball, but mixes it well with a slider, a curveball and a changeup. The whole package has been effective against both lefties and righties this season with the former hitting .225 against Hart in Double-A and the latter batting .181.
But when it comes specifically to whiffs, Hart admitted his rate jump hasn't been deliberate in 2019.
"In terms of strikeouts, I don't even think about those until I get two strikes," he said. "From the moment they get in the box, I'm thinking about what I can do to get the batter out in the best way I can. Once it gets to two strikes, OK, then I can start thinking about how is the strikeout most effective here. As for pitches, maybe my slider and changeup have a touch more depth this season, but it's not some overhaul in my pitches or approach that has caused this."
Hart's gem Thursday might not even be his most noteworthy start of the 2019 season, though. He tossed 6 2/3 innings as the starter in Portland's no-hitter at Binghamton back on April 25, the Sea Dogs' first nine-inning no-hitter since Aug. 13, 2001. But this latest outing quickly earned a special place in his heart.

"It was really awesome to throw a no-hitter with two of my teammates and close friends," Hart said. "But today, the pressure was on me -- and it's always there -- but today the pressure was we needed me to go a little long [after the bullpen game]. I thought if I could go five or six innings, we'd be OK. Just get there. That's the way I could be the best teammate I could be because I don't want guys going back to back, guys that have had my back in the past. Kind of in that way, I'm more proud of today."
Still the southpaw knows if he wants to be Kyle Hart, big leaguer, he needs to be Kyle Hart, the pitcher he's been everywhere else first.
"For me, I've said the same thing my whole career -- I'm going to get outs wherever the Red Sox need me to get outs," he said. "Even when they started me in extended after my first Spring Training, I thought that if they needed outs there, I'm going to give them outs there. Right now, I'm trying to get outs against Triple-A guys. My goals has always been to get Major League hitters out, but the Red Sox don't need that right now. I just need to keep it simple and don't worry about if I could get Major League hitters out. We say it all the time. Be where your feet are. Right now, that's facing a lot of [darn] good Triple-A hitters."
Bryce Brentz went 2-for-2 with a double, a walk and two RBIs and made a nice diving catch to rob third-ranked Phillies prospectAdam Haseley of a hit in the sixth. Jantzen Witte hit a two-run homer to right center off right-handed reliever Seth McGarry in the seventh to provide the rest of the Pawtucket offense.

Philly's No. 10 prospect Ranger Suárez allowed two earned runs on four hits and two walks while fanning five over six innings. He is now 2-2 with a 5.91 ERA through six Triple-A starts this season.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.