ARLINGTON, Texas — So what changed?
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said earlier this week that Corey Hart “wasn’t anywhere close” to being ready to play right field due to concerns regarding the start/stop stress on his surgically repaired knees.
And then…Hart started Thursday afternoon in right field for the first time since July 21, 2012.
“He told me he’s feeling good,” McClendon said. “That his knees are fine. Hey, listen, I’ve got to go with my player. He says he’s feeling pretty good. But we’ll watch him. We’ll keep an eye on him.”
Hart had no problems. He ran down J.P. Arencibia’s drive into the right-center gap in the second inning and added a sliding catch later in the game on his two surgically-repaired knees.
“I was nervous,” Hart admitted, “but once I got out there, I’ve been out there plenty of times. It kind of came back pretty quick.”
Hart missed all of last season while recovering from surgery on both knees, but he contends nagging soreness in his forearm and lower back have been more of a concern.
“I was a little apprehensive in spring when I was out there,” he said, “because I didn’t know what would happen if I slid. As time’s gone on, the knees haven’t been a problem. They’ve gotten stronger.
“I’ve actually been able to run a little faster than I thought I would. The instincts have been there, and I haven’t even worried about that part of the game.”
McClendon said Hart is unlikely to play right field this weekend in Miami, where games won’t include the designated hitter. But he said Hart could see time at first base.
“He was (moving well),” McClendon said, “but we’ll take it slow. We’ll make sure we continue to build with him. Not get too far ahead of ourselves. I’m sure he might be a little sore (on Friday).”
Class AAA Tacoma first baseman Ji-Man Choi received a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball after testing positive for methandienone, a performance-enhancing substance.
The suspension takes effect immediately. Procedurally, Choi is placed on the restricted list for the length of the suspension without pay. It does create an opening on the Mariners’ 40-man roster.
Choi issued a statement in which he expressed surprise at the finding.
“A banned substance was detected in my urine sample,” he said. “I do not know what I could have taken that caused me to test positive. I have not and never would knowingly use anything illegal to enhance my performance.
“However, I also understand that without an explanation I must serve a suspension and I accept that. I look forward to putting this behind me and to returning to help the Mariners’ ballclub once my suspension has ended.”
The Mariners issued the following statement:
“The Seattle Mariners are disappointed to learn of today’s suspension of AAA infielder Ji-Man Choi. The organization fully supports Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and its efforts to eliminate performance-enhancing substances from our game.
“Per the Basic Agreement, the Mariners will have no further comment.”
Choi, 22, was batting .394 through 10 games for the Rainiers with one homer and five RBI.
There’s nothing official yet, but right-hander Brandon Maurer looms as an increasingly likely promotion candidate to start Sunday’s series finale in Miami.
Right-hander Anthony Fernandez, the other top possibility, threw 83 pitches Wednesday in Class AAA Tacoma’s 8-5 victory over Salt Lake (Angels).
General manager Jack Zduriencik said the Mariners would likely look internally for a starter to replace injured Blake Beavan, who was placed on the disabled list Wednesday because of shoulder tendinitis.
Fernandez and Maurer are the only starters in the minors currently on the club’s 40-man roster. Maurer, 23, loomed as a rotation candidate in spring before an ailing back derailed his chances.
Maurer made three relief appearances at Tacoma before throwing 54 pitches Monday in just two innings as a starter. He has allowed two earned runs and five hits overall in 8 1/3 innings with a whopping 17 strikeouts.
McClendon said the Mariners will likely option a non-pitcher to the minors to clear space for Sunday’s starter.
Jones on board
Outfielder James Jones did what virtually every player does when he gets the call to report for the first time to the big leagues.
He called his mom.
“She didn’t understand at first what ‘being called up’ is,” he said. “But she finally realized it, and she was real excited for me.”
That explanation was easier for Jones than getting from Tacoma to Texas. Jones didn’t arrive in time Wednesday to be in uniform. His gear didn’t arrive until late Thursday morning.
“I tried to sleep (on the plane),” he said, “but I couldn’t do it. I just sat there the whole time and listened to a bunch of music. I just couldn’t wait to get here.”
Jones, 25, was the Mariners’ fourth-round pick in the 2009 draft. He was batting .310 with a .370 on-base percentage in 11 games for the Rainiers prior to his recall.
Pryor activated, optioned
Right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor was activated from the disabled list and optioned to Class AAA Tacoma.
The move came just over a year (April 15, 2013) after Pryor went to the disabled list with a back injury that was later diagnosed as a torn back muscle. He underwent surgery on Aug. 9.
Pryor, 24, allowed seven runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings over six rehab outings this year at Class AA Jackson and Tacoma.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma is scheduled test his recovery from a strained ligament in his middle finger by throwing 45 pitches over three simulated innings prior to Friday’s game in Miami. If all goes well, Iwakuma could depart next week on a rehab assignment … Robinson Cano’s first homer as a Mariner, a three-run shot in the third, came in his 63rd plate appearance … Erasmo Ramirez had the Mariners’ shortest outing of the season by a starting pitcher at two-plus innings. He has allowed 13 earned runs in 11 innings over his last three starts … Texas reliever Hector Noesi did not allow a run in 4 1/3 innings over two outings against his former club. He did permit two inherited runners to score in the third inning.
The Mariners open interleague play Friday when they make their first trip to Marlins Park with a three-game weekend series beginning at 4:10 p.m. PT in Miami.
Their only previous trip to South Florida was 2005, when they won two of three from June 7-9 at Dolphins Stadium. Overall, the Mariners hold a 5-4 edge over the Marlins, having gone 3-3 at Safeco Field in 2008 and 2011.
Right-hander Chris Young (0-0 with an 0.00 ERA) makes his second start of the season in today’s series opener. He worked six scoreless innings in last Sunday’s loss to Oakland.
Miami is starting righty Nathan Eovaldi (1-1 and 4.19).