McClendon: Hart can be M’s ‘x-factor’

ARLINGTON, Texas — Corey Hart isn’t sure what the future holds but, after two injury-filled years, he just wants to enjoy the ride as the Mariners try to reach postseason for the first time in 13 years.

“I told Skip (manager Lloyd McClendon) that whenever he feels I need to get in there, I’m in there” Hart said, “I just want to be productive when I get up there. Have good at-bats.

“Hopefully, I get up in situations where I can come through.”

That happened Wednesday when Hart, in his first big-league game since Aug. 1, delivered a tie-breaking homer that lifted the Mariners to a 2-1 victory at Oakland.

Hart’s homer, a no-doubt drive to left against A’s ace Jon Lester, came immediately after Kyle Seager opened the seventh inning with a game-trying homer to right.

“Seager has been a stud all year,” Hart said. “Once he tied it up for us, I was just trying to make contact and get something going for the rest of the guys. I was able to get the ball in the air.”

It was just the sort of power the Mariners envisioned Hart supplying when they took a $6 million risk last December in signing him to a one-year deal that included numerous performance bonuses.

Hart, 32, was a nine-year veteran with proven pop but represented a big free-agent risk because he missed all of 2013 at Milwaukee after undergoing two major knee surgeries.

Early on, McClendon spoke of Hart playing 145-150 games by shifting between right field, first base and designated hitter.

That hasn’t happened.

When Hart started Thursday as the designated hitter at Texas, it was just his 60th game of the season.

A strained hamstring and a bruised knee forced him to spend two extended tours in the disabled list. He rejoined the Mariners on Monday after a nine-game rehab assignment at Triple-A Tacoma.

“My legs were a little weak for most of the season,” Hart said. “I was trying to get strong there. I was able to work out with our guys in Seattle, and their guys (in Tacoma).

“Just working more on strength than anything. Then to apply it when I get up there to swing.”

That happened Wednesday against Lester.

“Corey has a track record,” McClendon said. “Corey is an All-Star player. He’s battled a lot of injuries this year, but he’s come back pretty good. He’s healthy. He swung the bat well down at Triple-A.

“Corey Hart can be an x-factor for us, particularly against left-handed pitchers.”

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