Mariners hope Hart is Seattle's next slugger

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners have searched far and wide for a power hitter to plug into their lineup. They've made trades for Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak, and signed guys like Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez over the last few years. This year, they're hoping Corey Hart can fill the void -- although it's a gamble.

Hart, 31, spent nine seasons as a slugger for the Milwaukee Brewers, smacking 154 homers and driving in 508 runs. Hart's efforts earned him a trip to the All-Star game in 2008 and 2010.

That sounds pretty good, right? Well, here's the issue: Hart, who is 6'6" and 235 pounds, missed all of last season recovering from surgery on his knees. That means he hasn't seen the field since October 1, 2012. But, that didn't stop the Mariners from signing Hart to a 1-year contract reportedly worth as much as $13 million.

"Health is good," Hart said at Spring Training in Peoria. "I'm just trying to stay healthy right now; try not to overdo it."

That's easier said than done when you're fighting for a roster spot. Hart is currently one of 13 outfielders on the Mariners' Spring Training roster. Despite the competition, the veteran knows he needs to ease into camp.

"I'm a little different than those other guys," Hart said. "I have to take my time and make sure I don't overdo it. I have to save my bullets and go hard when it's needed."

It's easier to take it slow when you have support from the manager. Lloyd McClendon sees a bright future for Hart in Seattle. Earlier in camp, he told reporters -- best case scenario -- he'd like to see Hart play 145 games in right field for the Mariners this season.

"Lloyd and I have talked plenty of times about my role and what I need to do to get ready," said Hart. "He knows that I'm going to be on a different page than those guys. I can't keep up with them as much as I want to. As long as I'm ready to go at the end of the month, we're pretty much on the same page with that."

The Mariners open the regular season on March 31 against the Angels in Anaheim. If all goes as planned, Hart will be one of the featured bats in a rebuilt Mariners lineup.