Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Feel-good story in '16, Hart won't rest on laurels

O's reliever determined to improve, remain in Majors
MLB.com @Britt_Ghiroli

This offseason required some adjustment for Orioles reliever Donnie Hart. A naturally low-key guy, Hart, who lives in Houston, got more attention in the gym during workouts and visiting old friends, a side effect of big league fame that took the left-hander by surprise.

"It'd be like, 'Hey, this guy pitches in the big leagues.' I'd be like, 'Hey, dial it down a little bit. It's not that big of a deal,'" said Hart, who appeared in 22 games as a rookie for the Orioles last season. "People wanting to treat you different. As a person you're the same person, you don't change any. I think if you change, it's not helping you any. But that was different, that was hard to get used to."

View Full Game Coverage

This offseason required some adjustment for Orioles reliever Donnie Hart. A naturally low-key guy, Hart, who lives in Houston, got more attention in the gym during workouts and visiting old friends, a side effect of big league fame that took the left-hander by surprise.

"It'd be like, 'Hey, this guy pitches in the big leagues.' I'd be like, 'Hey, dial it down a little bit. It's not that big of a deal,'" said Hart, who appeared in 22 games as a rookie for the Orioles last season. "People wanting to treat you different. As a person you're the same person, you don't change any. I think if you change, it's not helping you any. But that was different, that was hard to get used to."

View Full Game Coverage

A 27th-round pick in 2013, Hart was one of last season's feel-good stories, as the 26-year-old allowed one earned run following his debut July 17. Hart, who posted an 0.49 ERA over 18 1/3 innings, pitched in some big situations, including getting an out in Baltimore's American League Wild Card Game loss in Toronto.

The leap from Double-A Bowie was big enough. But when you consider Hart was in extended spring training with no real spot in the organization in the spring of 2014, it's no wonder why closer Zach Britton hailed the rookie for seemingly coming out of nowhere.

Video: TB@BAL: Hart induces the double play to escape a jam

"It's motivating in a sense," Hart said of coming up and not being a top prospect.

Hart's career nearly ended before he even got the chance to sign with Baltimore.

After sitting out his freshman year at Texas State with injury, the redshirt junior was called into the office about a week before his fourth year. The club wasn't sure if it had room for Hart, who had just dropped down his arm slot.

"It was a numbers deal again," Hart said. "I didn't have enough classes left to take. If they had released me, I probably wouldn't have kept playing baseball because I had my degree [in criminal justice] and everything."

Video: BAL@BOS: Hart discusses big win, pitching to Papi

Fortunately for Hart, Texas State kept him and he went on to sign with the O's and pitch in 19 games in low Class A in 2013. After three months in extended spring training the following year, Hart ended up in Class A ball before his breakout season in '15, when he ascended three levels and rose to Double-A Bowie, passing a lot of the players he had been stuck behind.

"The game has changed -- everyone puts emphasis on velocity and size. I was 23 [years old] and 5-foot-10 and throwing sidearm," Hart said of having to continually prove himself. "You can let it piss you off or you can see it or accept it for what it is. You still have to get guys out if you're a top prospect."

Hart, who will face a lot more righties this spring as he hopes to improve his numbers against them, keeps that chip on his shoulder.

"Nobody wanted to even give up a run because no one was giving up runs in the bullpen last year. Everybody was, it was competitive down there. Nobody wanted to be that guy," Hart said. "It's the same mindset this year. [My goals] this spring are one, stay healthy, [and] two, work on things I need to get better at. And three, do my job and get guys out so I can be on that Opening Day roster."

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.

Baltimore Orioles, Donnie Hart