M’s Morrison stakes his claim

SEATTLE — Logan Morrison is putting the Seattle Mariners in a pleasantly tough position whenever club officials deem Justin Smoak and Corey Hart ready to return from the disabled list.

Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Indians marked Morrison’s 17th straight start at first base since returning from the disabled list and, from all signs, he is tightening his grip on the position.

“I do (feel like it’s coming),” said Morrison, who missed nearly two months because of a strained left hamstring. “I went from hitting one ball hard a game to hitting two balls hard a game.

“They were still finding gloves for a while but, hopefully, we can get some more grass.”

Morrison has bumped his average from .150 to .240 since his return and entered Saturday on an 8-for-14 burst over the previous four games. He also is providing some much-needed thump: Four homers in his past 15 games.

“He’s done a nice job,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “and he’s swinging the bat extremely well. He’s been an important part of our offense.

“As we move forward, we’ll continue to evaluate and see what makes us better. If you’re asking me for an answer of whether he’s going to play first base over Justin Smoak or Corey Hart, I don’t have that answer right now.”

Like Smoak, Hart is also on a rehab assignment at Class AAA Tacoma. Smoak is recovering from a strained left quadriceps injury, and Hart hasn’t played since May 18 because of a strained left hamstring.

“They’re getting better,” McClendon said. “They’re both getting anxious. They’ve been texting me. We’ll see.”

The clock is ticking.

Rehab assignments are limited to 20 days for non-pitchers — and Smoak started his on June 18; Hart on June 21. One big difference: Smoak has an option remaining and can be sent to the minors after his 20-day session.

In 63 games with the Mariners this season, Smoak is hitting .208 with seven home runs and 29 RBI. Hart is batting .209, with five HRs and 17 RBI in 37 games.

Going into Saturday’s contest, Morrison was batting .240 with four homers and 10 RBI in 24 games.

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