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Hart's progress apparent with first home run

OAKLAND -- Corey Hart said all spring that regaining his swing would be a work in progress after sitting out all of 2013, but the Mariners' new designated hitter was happy to finally see a little of that progression pay off with his first home run in 18 months in Wednesday's 8-2 victory over the Angels.

Hart hit just .132 in Cactus League play with no homers and one double in 38 at-bats. But the big man laced a home run down the left-field line in the ninth inning off Angels right-hander Ernesto Frieri, turning around a 95-mph fastball for his first long ball since hitting two in Sept. 29, 2012, against the Astros to finish that season with 30.

"I'm still working toward it, but I'm starting to see the ball a little easier, a little sooner," Hart said before Thursday's series opener with the A's. "I'm getting a little more confident up there, and my swings are getting a little quicker. It's not all together, but hopefully it won't take a ton more at-bats. I'm definitely feeling more confident."

Putting up a 2-for-5 night in his second game to raise his early average to .333 at DH didn't hurt. After going 1-for-4 with an infield single on a slow dribbler in his Tuesday debut, Hart welcomed a solid single in the sixth and then his home run in the ninth.

"Definitely," Hart said. "For me, if I was 0-for-20 I'd be hiding in a hole somewhere. But there are so many good vibes right now. These guys are working hard, so it kind of carries over. It's hard not to get out there and try to do what these guys are doing. It definitely helps getting off to a good start."

The two-time National League All-Star is adjusting to more than just a year off following two microfracture knee surgeries. This is the first time he's served as a primary DH, previously having spent his career in the National League. When he was with the Brewers, Prince Fielder always got called on to DH in Interleague games, so Hart is learning how to keep himself active while not playing in the field.

"It's definitely an adjustment, but I don't mind it at all," he said. "I like looking at video and taking swings in the cage, so I keep myself occupied. I don't have a hard time staying in the game. I know it's tough for some guys. It's easy to get out of the game if you're just watching.

"But I find things to do. I stay loose. I watch my at-bats. I watch some of the other guy's at-bats, I'll hit in the cage. Just keep myself ready to go."

Manager Lloyd McClendon will use Hart primarily at DH for now, though he hopes to work him in some in right field eventually if he stays healthy. But mostly, the Mariners want to get Hart's big right-handed bat in their lefty-leaning lineup.

"Corey's at-bats got progressively better, and he capped it off with a good one," McClendon said of Hart's game Tuesday. "It was really good to see. We need him to be successful if we're going to be successful."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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