Hart getting more comfortable at the plate

Hart getting more comfortable at the plate

SEATTLE -- As a two-time All-Star and career .276 hitter, Corey Hart isn't proud of the .220 batting average he carried into Friday night's game for the Mariners.

But the 33-year-old designated hitter has come through in the clutch, hitting .304 (7-for-23) with 10 RBIs with runners in scoring position and his run-scoring single in the third inning Thursday was all the Mariners needed in a 1-0 victory over the Royals in the series opener at Safeco Field.

"He actually has been swinging the bat a lot better than the average has shown," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He hit some balls pretty darn good on the road trip without anything to really show for it. It was nice to see him come through right there."

Hart has been getting more and more comfortable at the plate after missing all of last season with the Brewers following microfracture surgeries on both knees. He groans when his current average is mentioned, but does share the team lead with five home runs and is fifth with his 14 RBIs going into Friday's action.

"It's tough," he said of his first five weeks with the Mariners. "I'm kind of a notorious slow starter. This is kind of an odd season. I've missed some balls or hit a lot of hard balls right at guys. But it's getting a little more positive. I go to sleep easier. I'm not too far away from a good average and a lot of hits. I'll just keep working with the guys and hope the training staff keeps me on the field."

The Mariners need Hart's right-handed bat to produce as the cleanup hitter behind Robinson Cano and he averaged 33 doubles, 24 home runs and 78 RBIs over his last six seasons in Milwaukee.

"He's an important piece to what we're trying to accomplish," McClendon said. "This guy has a good track record. He's been off for over a year, but I would hope he can get back to being the player he was in Milwaukee because that was a pretty productive player.

"I see flashes of it and I still think it's going to take a little while, but I think he'll get there. I know from competing against him the past, when he gets hot, he gets hot. I see him real close to getting there."

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.