The Brewers may err on the side of caution considering Hart's experience last year, when he missed all of Spring Training with a rib cage issue and returned after limited preparatory at-bats when another outfielder, Nyjer Morgan, was sidelined. Still finding his stroke, Hart batted .235 with one RBI in his first 15 games. He hit .290 with 26 home runs and 62 RBIs in the 115 games that followed.
If Hart misses Opening Day, the Brewers expect him to be ready shortly thereafter. Clubs can backdate a season-opening stint on the 15-day disabled list to March 26. In that scenario, Hart could be active as early as April 10, the Brewers' fifth regular-season game.
He had a bounce in his step Saturday morning.
"I'm way ahead of schedule," Hart said.
Here's that schedule so far: Hart underwent arthroscopic surgery on March 6 to repair three tears to cartilage in his right knee. That was a Tuesday; he was back at Maryvale Baseball Park on Wednesday on crutches. By that Friday, he was down to one crutch. By Sunday, he was walking without crutches.
One week post-surgery, on Tuesday, March 13, Hart told athletic trainers he felt ready to begin running on a treadmill, and they held him off until Thursday. On Friday, Hart had the stitches removed from three small entry points around his kneecap. He also hit off a tee for the first time and threw on the field.
He apparently passed that test, because Hart said he was feeling "great" on Saturday morning.
Of his timetable, he said, "It really depends on how fast I can get comfortable with baseball stuff. Running on the treadmill is a lot different than running on the field. But I just had my stitches out yesterday, and I'm already doing a lot more than I thought I would be."
Hart's speedy recovery doesn't surprise second baseman Rickie Weeks, who had a similar procedure after the 2008 postseason and walked out of surgery.
"It's really not a bad surgery," Weeks said. "I'm not surprised at all to see him doing so good."