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Mariners rally behind Corey Hart to beat Angels

Mariners slugger Corey Hart connects for a three-run home run in the third inning against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday. (Associated Press)
Mariners slugger Corey Hart connects for a three-run home run in the third inning against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

It should have been a full-on celebration. With a sold-out crowd of 45, 661 jammed into Safeco Field on a less-than-frigid Tuesday night, the Mariners made their home opener an enjoyable victory for fans, rolling to a 5-3 triumph, thanks to a pair of Corey Hart home runs.

The free agent designated hitter/outfielder was signed to a one-year contract to be a middle of the order presence to protect fellow free agent signee Robinson Cano. Injuries had slowed his progress in spring training and have disrupted his timing and rhythm at the plate.

But it all came together in his first game at Safeco Field. With the Mariners trailing 3-1 in the third inning, Hart crushed a three-run homer off of Angels’ starter Hector Santiago onto the roof of Edgar’s Cantina in left field to put the Mariners up for good. He added a little insurance in the seventh inning, blasting a solo homer off of reliever Nick Marooned over the wall in center field.

Add in a Justin Smoak run-scoring single and the pomp and circumstance of opening night, and it should have been a perfect evening.

But the sight of talented starter James Paxton walking off the mound accompanied by trainer Rob Nodine and manager Lloyd McClendon with no outs in the sixth inning dampened the overall mood. Paxton had given up a single to Kole Calhoun to start the sixth and then threw one pitch to Mike Trout when he looked at the dugout. Nodine and McClendon came out to check on him and he motioned to the back of his arm.

The Mariners later announced that Paxton suffered a strain latissmus dorsi. He will be re-evaluated today.

The biggest fear is a recurrence of what happened with reliever Stephen Pryor last season. He was diagnosed with a strained lat on April 14 and never pitched again. But Pryor’s strain eventually turned into a tear.

Placing that same level of damage on Paxton is premature. But expect the Mariners to be ultra careful with his recovery.

They can slide veteran Chris Young back into the rotation quite easily. Young had his Friday start in Oakland skipped because of a postponement. McClendon then moved him to a long relief role because of multiple off days this week. But Young is stretched out and ready to pitch. Meanwhile Blake Beavan, who is scheduled to start Thursday for Tacoma, or veteran Zach Miner could be promoted to fill the long relief spot.