By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
CHICAGO— Outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart is back with the Seattle Mariners after missing nearly seven weeks because of a strained left hamstring.
The Mariners activated Hart prior to Friday’s game against the Chicago White Sox after clearing roster space by designating outfielder Cole Gillespie for assignment.
“I feel fine,” said Hart, who went immediately into the lineup as its designated hitter. “Nothing hurts. My legs are still getting back (in shape). I’m not as fast as I want to be right now.
“But I can do everything without hurting myself or getting re-injured. Now, it’s just getting back out there, playing and trying to get my legs stronger.”
Hart’s sacrifice fly in the ninth inning produced the Mariners’ only run in Friday’s loss to Chris Sale and the White Sox. He also sent a drive to deep right field in an earlier at-bat.
That was about as good as anyone managed against Sale.
Hart, 32, tested his recovery by playing 10 games in a rehab assignment at Class AAA Tacoma, where he batted .297 (11-for-37) with five extra-base hits and four RBI.
“My timing has been good,” he said, “but it’s a little bit different game down there. I got a lot of at-bats, and every game seemed to be a little better for me.
The final test came Wednesday when Hart showed no limitations while playing in the outfield for the first time since his injury.
“Corey is free to do everything he did before (the injury),” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I’m not going to put any restrictions on him. You can’t play this game that way. If he wasn’t able to do that, he wouldn’t be here.”
The timing wasn’t a coincidence. Hart provides a right-handed bat as the Mariners prepared to face two Chicago left-handers: Sale and Jose Quintana.
“He’s swinging the bat (well),” McClendon said. “He’s a force in your lineup. It made sense to bring him back.”
Hart suffered the injury May 18 while running the bases in a 6-2 victory at Minnesota. He was batting .209 at the time with five homers and 17 RBI in 34 games.
“I have no issues,” said Hart, who signed a one-year deal last December as a free agent after missing last season while recovering from surgeries on both knees.
“I’m able to do everything. … Nothing hurts. I’m able to go out there and do everything without caution.”
Gillespie, 30, batted .254 with one homer and five RBI in 34 games after the Mariners selected his contract April 24 from Tacoma, where he batted .362 in 16 games with five homers and 14 RBI.
The Mariners now have 10 days to trade, release or outright Gillespie off their roster.