MESA, Ariz. – The knees, Corey Hart says, are fine.
And the swing, well, it’s getting there, he insists — despite early spring-training numbers that could cause the casual observer to think otherwise.
Hart is an eight-year veteran of the Milwaukee Brewers who missed all of last season after having surgeries to both knees. He signed with the Mariners in December but is hitting just .143 this spring after going 1 for 4 in Thursday’s 3-0 win over the Chicago Cubs in Mesa.
That includes 18 strikeouts in 35 at-bats.
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After striking out his first two at-bats Thursday, though, Hart smashed a hard single to left. That came a day after Hart hit a home run in a minor-league game in which he got about 10 at-bats as the team attempts to get him into opening-day form, having penciled him in as the projected right fielder.
“He swung better,’’ manager Lloyd McClendon said of Hart, who is 5 for 35 with one double and no home runs. “Line drive to left, I was pleased with what I saw. You can see the hands starting to work up a little bit.’’
Before the game, Hart shrugged off his numbers, saying “spring is super overrated. I’ve had great springs and then the season didn’t go so well, and bad springs when the season went great. I just want to make sure when I leave here I am seeing the ball fine, and then I will start worrying about the results.’’
Hart also noted that when spring began, it had been 18 months since he had taken a live at-bat after dealing with knee injuries last season.
“I usually take a while to get going, anyway,’’ he said. “But after that kind of a layoff, you kind of forget how hard this game is and that the worst guy over there is still unbelievably good. So I’m just trying to find a groove.’’
Hart had surgery on his right knee last March. He suffered an injury to his left knee during rehab and had surgery on it in July.
While he felt his rehab went well, the 32-year-old Hart said he wondered initially how the knees would hold up this spring, saying they were his “major concern’’ entering camp. “But I’ve been solid there,’’ he said. “It hasn’t been an issue. It’s just the regular aches and pains of spring training that everybody has.’’
The Mariners felt confident Hart had recovered well enough to sign him to a one-year deal that reportedly includes $6 million guaranteed and another $7 million in possible incentives. McClendon has even said he hoped Hart could play 145 games in right field, though this week he softened that to say that number could be spread out over games at first base and designated hitter, as well.
The Mariners need Hart to provide right-handed power, as he did during his last season in Milwaukee in 2012 when he hit 30 homers with a .270 average.
Hart said one reason he decided to sign with Seattle is that the Mariners train in Arizona. He said the Peoria complex is roughly a half-hour from his home in Litchfield Park, and he usually drops some of his four kids off at school on his way to the park.
“It makes it a little more fun for me,’’ he said.
The hitting, he thinks, will soon be fun again, too.
“Every day is a little better,’’ he said. “I’m just trying to worry about my swing pattern and when I start seeing the ball, pick it up a little faster than I have been. That will come.’’
Hernandez solid vs. free swingers
Instead of making the long drive over to Mesa to face the Cubs, Felix Hernandez chose convenience and decided to pitch in a minor-league game in Peoria. Facing the Brewers’ Class A team, Hernandez pitched seven innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on five hits with six strikeouts and one wild pitch. Hernandez threw 82 pitches with 62 strikes.
“I felt good,” he said. “I was throwing a lot of strikes. Everything was working. I was down in the zone. I was happy with myself.”
For the Brewers’ young minor-leaguers, the chance to face a Cy Young award winner was something they’ll always remember. They weren’t going up there watching.
“They swung at everything,” Hernandez said. “If they weren’t swinging, I probably would have gone six innings instead of seven.”
Hernandez will make his next start Tuesday against the Kansas City Royals in Surprise.
“Next one I will go 100 pitches and then six days and then opening day,” he said.
• Erasmo Ramirez started in Mesa against the Cubs and pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just four hits, lowering his spring earned-run average to 0.96 in 182
Still, McClendon demurred from stating that Ramirez has locked up a spot in the starting rotation, saying, “I’m not ready to say any of those things yet.’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699
or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta