Hart set for more action with run of lefty starters

Hart set for more action with run of lefty starters

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates signed Corey Hart this winter to serve as a bat off the bench and a starter against left-handed pitching. More than two months into the season, though, Hart's role has been smaller than expected.

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That could change over the coming days, as the Pirates face four lefty starters in a row, after seeing only eight in their first 61 games before Sunday's matchup with Cole Hamels.

"We had talked about Corey's lack of participation," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "[Coach Dave] Jauss and I had been hunting rotations for 2 1/2 months, and this is the first storm we've run into where we're going to get a bunch of left-handers in a row."

Hart was in the starting lineup on Sunday, batting seventh and playing first base, for the first time in nearly a month. His last start was May 16 against Jon Lester and the Cubs.

Since Spring Training, the Pirates have expressed interest in the idea of "bundling" at-bats for bench players. The upcoming run of lefties -- Hamels and White Sox southpaws Carlos Rodon, Jose Quintana and John Danks -- presents an ideal bundle for Hart.

"I encouraged him to hang in there, keep working," Hurdle said. "I felt that, starting with this Sunday, we'd have an opportunity to get him some games and a volume of at-bats."

Between his most recent starts, Hart was limited to seven plate appearances. Jose Tabata has seemingly emerged as Hurdle's top option off the bench in pinch-hit situations.

Three weeks ago, Hurdle had a chance to start Hart against Mets lefty Jon Niese, but opted to use Sean Rodriguez at first and Tabata in right field.

Hurdle said at the time he preferred that combination for defensive purposes, and because they were simply swinging the bat better. That decision intensified the speculation regarding Hart's utility on the Bucs' active roster.

But the Pirates signed Hart believing he would help them win games this season, and they still believe he can be a useful piece when given the opportunity.

"The challenge of a deep and versatile club is there are options for the manager," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "Corey is a regular that's trying to reestablish himself as a role player. There are some challenges that come with it.

"It's been a challenge for Clint to get Corey an opportunity to get rolling, and it's been a challenge for Corey to get rolling. Certainly, we were thinking we'd get more. But, at the same time, I can completely understand why it's been a challenge for Corey."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.