Hart earning a place in Cubs' bullpen

Hart earning a place in bullpen

MESA, Ariz. -- Kevin Hart appears to have the edge in securing a spot in the Cubs' Opening Day bullpen.

The right-hander, who made the jump last season from Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Iowa to the big leagues and the playoffs, has a 3.18 ERA in six games this spring. However, he's only given up runs in one outing -- March 7 against Seattle. Otherwise, he's served up two hits in 5 1/3 scoreless innings.

"He's pitched well," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He's starting to separate himself from the rest of the pitchers here in a role that we're looking at. He looks comfortable out there, he's throwing the ball well, he knows how to pitch.

"He was one of the kids we really wanted to take a look at here in Spring Training, and he's done quite well. I would think he would fit in very nice in the middle part of our pitching staff."

With Ryan Dempster going from the 'pen to the rotation, the Cubs are looking for another right-handed reliever and would like to designate someone as the long man. Hart, who was a starter in the Minor Leagues, could handle that assignment. This spring, he's also been asked to pitch in late-inning situations.

"I think he's starting to separate himself pretty clearly from the rest of the pitchers," Piniella said.

The Cubs plan on carrying 12 pitchers at the start of the season, which means seven relievers. The pitchers who are set for the 'pen include Kerry Wood, Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol, Scott Eyre and Michael Wuertz. If Hart makes it, then the decision for the final spot could come down to whether to have another lefty, or to use one of the starters who doesn't make it in the rotation as a reliever.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.