Hart picked up his second win in his third career start Saturday as the Cubs edged the Reds, 5-3, to win for the ninth time in their past 12 games. Aramis Ramirez smacked his second homer in as many games, a two-run shot, and Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley each added solo home runs, with Bradley's coming in a pinch-hit at-bat in the eighth.
Hart (2-1) thought he'd have one more start and then be switched to the bullpen when Ryan Dempster returns from the disabled list. But Lilly is now sidelined with inflammation in his left shoulder, and Hart will take his spot in the rotation. Lilly also played a big role in Saturday's game.
"He was sitting next to me the whole day in the dugout, helping me out between innings, talking to me about pitch selection and how to throw to hitters, and that's a big help," Hart said of Lilly. "Teddy's a gamer. You try to bring the same energy he would bring every time you take the mound."
Hart scattered five hits over six innings, his longest appearance in the big leagues. He joins rookie Randy Wells in the Cubs' rotation as they try to catch the Cardinals in the National League Central. The Cubs didn't expect to be counting on the kids.
"Like we tell our players the first day of Spring Training, even if you don't make the team, you make an impression in camp," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "If there's a need and you make an impression, you'll be given an opportunity."
What was encouraging for catcher Koyie Hill was seeing Hart cut down on the walks. In his last start, the righty issued five.
"Those guys from Texas grow up idolizing Nolan Ryan and want to blow everybody away," Hill said of Hart, who lives in Plano, Texas. "Kevin has a really good arm. One of the things I've tried to stress to him is it's not how nasty your pitches are, it's about how many you throw where you want to.
"He's doing a great job for a team that's competing for a pennant. You lose a starter, and for him to come in and give us five, six innings and keep us in the ballgame, that's all we ask. I couldn't be more proud of him. He's executing and he's pitching."
Hart didn't help himself at the plate, leaving the bases loaded in both the first and third innings. But he did all right with the glove. The Reds had a runner at third and one out in the fourth when Edwin Encarnacion one-hopped a comebacker to the rookie pitcher, who barehanded the ball, checked the runner at third, and threw out Encarnacion.
"I don't think there's a whole lot of thought process involved there," Hart said. "You've got a guy on third and it's a reaction play. If that ball gets by me, it probably scores a run. At that point, I'm not worried about my hand or anything. I just want to get an out."
The Reds had taken a 1-0 lead in the first, but the Cubs topped that when they hit for the cycle in their half. Reed Johnson doubled to lead off, advanced on Ryan Theriot's sacrifice, and scored on Derrek Lee's triple that dropped into the right-center gap between Willy Taveras and Chris Dickerson.
That set up Ramirez's home run, his seventh, to make it 3-1 against Reds starter Johnny Cueto (8-7). Kosuke Fukudome followed with an infield single.
Soriano, who seems to have made the adjustment from leadoff man to No. 6 hitter, made it 4-1 with a one-out solo homer in the fifth, his 17th, for his third hit of the game. He's now batting .371 (23-for-62) in the sixth spot.
"I like batting leadoff," Soriano said. "Now, batting sixth, I'm getting comfortable and I'm getting comfortable at the right time. Batting sixth, there's little pressure on me. I don't have to try to get on base, just see the ball and hit it. It's a different part of the game for me."
The Cubs are five games over .500 for the first time since May 19.
"I think we have a good team and we're starting to show it," said Lee, who had to leave the game because of neck spasms. "We just have to fight through the injuries and we'll be all right."
Piniella didn't want to get too giddy. The Cubs are still ranked near the bottom in almost every offensive category.
"Let's not get euphoric about it yet," Piniella said, "but it's getting better."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.