M’s Hart feeling better, ready to contribute

SEATTLE — Corey Hart knows the bigger tests for his surgically-repaired knees still lie ahead but, at this point, all signs are positive.

“I’ve ramped up everything,” he said Sunday when the Mariners concluded their two-day FanFest at Safeco Field. “I’ve been running bases and doing baseball stuff.

“I haven’t gotten on the field yet to do fly balls, but I’ve been doing simulated ground balls to work on my footwork and agility. It’s been progressing. I’ve been able to do everything. It’s been nice.”

There might be no aspect of the Mariners’ upcoming spring camp that will be more closely watched or more crucial to their success than Hart’s ability to handle the daily grind on his knees after missing all of last season.

“Does he hit the ground running?” general manager Jack Zduriencik asked. “We’ll have to find out. He’s certainly talented. He could be a really good piece for us.”

The Mariners gambled $6 million to sign Hart, who turns 32 in March, off the free-agent market. The bet is he can regain his pre-injury form: .270 with 30 homers and 83 RBI in 149 games for Milwaukee in 2012.

The move sought to address the club’s still-pressing need to add right-handed pop to a lineup that leans increasingly left after adding Robinson Cano and Logan Morrison in other offseason moves.

Most clubs saw Hart, who is recovering from surgeries on both knees, as a logical fit as a first baseman/designated hitter, but the Mariners are hoping he can log significant time in the outfield.

Hart believes he can do that … eventually.

Club officials say they’re willing to wait. Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon talk of a three-man rotation between Hart, Morrison and Justin Smoak between first base and DH.

Morrison and Hart (at some point) can also play the outfield.

“I think it’s going to give you a chance to give some guys a rest,” Zduriencik said, “and give you a chance to match up your club a little bit better (against opposing pitchers).”

Even so, Hart figures to play, somewhere, as much as possible because, as a right-handed bat, he helps to balance the lineup. And one thing he isn’t worried about is his ability to regain his timing at the plate.

“Nah, you come back to spring training (every year) after missing six months,” he said. “It just takes a little bit. It might take me all spring, or even a bit into the season, but I’ve done it enough.

“I’m not worried about having a rough two or three weeks (at the plate) because I’m confident it will come. Even if I start slowly, it always ends up well.”

His knees, and how they hold up, are his only concern.

“I’ve got to show people I can do some stuff,” Hart said. “I totally understand that. I’ve got to prove that to myself because I’ve missed a full year because of my knees.”

He expects there to be pain.

“I’ll have to figure out if it’s pain because of injury,” Hart said, “or just soreness from muscles that I haven’t been using. I know I’m going to have to go through that.

“But having missed a year, I want to make sure I don’t rush things and have any setbacks. So far, it’s been great. My workouts have been great. Everything has been encouraging.”

FanFest numbers

The Mariners set a record by drawing 21,019 for their two-day weekend FanFest at Safeco Field. The previous best in the event’s 16-year history was last year at 17,952.

Crowds topped five figures on both days: 10,903 on Saturday, and 10,116 on Sunday.

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