CHICAGO — Outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart is back with the 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 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 Triple-A Tacoma, where he batted .297 (11-for-37) with five extra-base hits and four RBIs.
“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: Chris 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 RBIs 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 RBIs 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 RBIs.
The Mariners now have 10 days to trade, release or outright Gillespie off their roster.
Smoak optioned to Tacoma
Has time run out on first baseman Justin Smoak with the Mariners?
Smoak was optioned to Tacoma after concluding a rehab assignment in his recovery from a strained left quadriceps muscle. He hasn’t played in the majors since serving as a defensive replacement on June 9 at Tampa Bay.
The move suggests the Mariners prefer Logan Morrison, and perhaps Hart, at first base over Smoak, who was just 10-for-49 (.204) in 13 rehab games for the Rainiers.
“We only have so many spots,” McClendon said. “LoMo is playing extremely well. He’s been a big lift for us. Smoaky will continue to get at-bats there and get sharp. Listen, at some point, he’ll be helping this club.”
Smoak, 27, batted .208 for the Mariners in 63 games for the Mariners prior to his injury with seven homers and 29 RBIs.
Left-hander James Paxton is ready for the next step in his recovery from a strained back muscle — a simulated game —after experiencing no problems in a 52-pitch bullpen workout prior to Friday’s game.
“It felt really good,” Paxton said. “I felt loose and threw all of my pitches. Everything felt good. The next step is a sim game on Tuesday. Two innings.”
Paxton suffered the injury April 8 while beating the Angels in the home opener. He made a rehab start May 24 for Tacoma but encountered soreness in his shoulder that delayed his recovery.
The Mariners entered the weekend leading the American League with a 3.20 ERA. They’ve pulled ahead of Oakland, who were second at 3.23. Kansas City ranked third at 3.67…The Mariners were 16-20 on Independence Day after Friday’s loss…The Mariners have lost 22 of their last 26 games at U.S. Cellular Field and are 7-28 against the White Sox since the start of the 2010 season.
It was 19 years ago Saturday — July 5, 1995 — that first baseman Tino Martinez had, perhaps, the finest game of his career by going 5-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs in Detroit.
And it wasn’t enough. The Mariners still lost 8-6.
Martinez had three other five-hit games in his 16-year career, including one on June 24, 1997 while playing for the Yankees. He had two homers and four RBIs in that game, which was also in Detroit. New York won 12-9.
The Mariners and White Sox continue their three-game weekend series at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (10-2 with a 2.10 ERA) will face Chicago lefty Jose Quintana (5-7, 3.44). Root Sports will carry the game.
The clubs conclude their series at 11:10 a.m. Sunday before the Mariners return home for seven games prior to the All-Star break.
They open a four-game series Monday against Minnesota before playing three games next weekend against Oakland.