"It's a different ballgame when the season starts," said Hart, who hit just .132 in 13 Cactus League games. "I've worked through everything I need to work through and I made it without starting on the DL. That was a big step. Now I just have to go out there and get the nerves out of the way and have fun again."
Hart didn't play on Opening Day against right-hander Jered Weaver, but he played Tuesday against left-hander C.J. Wilson and will play Wednesday against lefty Hector Santiago. Manager Lloyd McClendon plans to bring him along slowly at the start of the year, with the hope he'll be able to play 140-plus games over the long haul.
"I'm competitive so I want to [play every day]," said Hart, who went 1-for-4 with an run scored in the Mariners' 8-3 win over the Angels on Tuesday. "But it'll work out. Baseball works out in the end. I'll get in there when he tells me to get in there, and eventually I'll make it hard for him to not put me in there. From missing a full year, it's exciting to just get back on the field and get my at-bats and work toward the comfort level that hopefully I get soon."
Hart said he hurt his forearm from trying to "keep up with all these younger guys" in outfield drills this spring. He took about a week off to let that rest, then played four Minor League intrasquad games in four days so he could bat every inning and get extra swings.
He said the main thing is getting back to seeing and recognizing pitches quicker, a process he knew would take most of spring after not playing since 2012. That time off was frustrating, but it also provided a perspective the Kentucky native will take to the plate with him for his first at-bat Tuesday night.
"Any time you miss a full year, you appreciate what kind of job we have and what we get to do," he said. "To not have that for a year and then come back, it'll be a special day. But I've been there enough to make sure it's going to be fun and exciting, and it's a new chapter with these guys. I'm excited to get out there with them."
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.