Cano’s not kidding: Mariners close

Second baseman says Seattle has a chance to be in postseason conversation, and the reason is pitching

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comMay 20, 2014 

Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano is hitting for a .318 average, which includes a .366 on-base percentage, but he has only 1 homer so far this season.

BRAD REMPEL/USA TODAY SPORTS

ARLINGTON, Texas — Even before Sunday, when he produced his first four-hit game as a Seattle Mariner in helping the team end a four-game skid, second baseman Robinson Cano stepped forward with a prediction.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said, “I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be there at the end of the season. I’m going to tell you why.

“We’ve got pitching. I think we have the best bullpen in the league. And our rotation … we’ve got what you need. We’ve got pitching. That’s what you need to win.”

Maybe this is just Cano fulfilling his role as club spokesman as the Mariners tread water at 21-22. Maybe he’s just wishing and hoping as he contemplates life in the Pacific Northwest after nine years in pinstripes.

But Cano’s time in New York taught him, among other things, there’s no profit in baseless optimism; that his words will be recorded and filed, then measured against what unfolds.

He knows, even as he, in effect, predicts the Mariners will be part of a postseason chase, he will be held accountable for his mid-May words. Just as he knows he will be held accountable for his own contributions.

He already is aware that grumbles are growing that he isn’t providing the pop the Mariners should rightfully expect in return for his $240 million contract over the next 10 years.

While Cano is batting .318 with a .366 on-base percentage — both of which exceed his career averages — he has only one home run in 43 games. And his .406 slugging percentage is down significantly from his career norm.

“I feel good,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can tell you. I don’t have the homers. Honestly, I’m not going to say I don’t want to hit homers. Who doesn’t want to hit homers?

“But that’s something that doesn’t really bother me.

“Like I’ve always said, I’m a guy who hits line drives. I want to hit over .300. I don’t want to be (the) guy who hits 25 or 30 homers but hits .260. I’d rather hit 16 or 20 (homers) and hit .300.”

It’s not all grim in terms of Cano’s run-production muscle. He has 10 doubles and 24 RBIs, which puts him on pace for 38 and 93 — or roughly within arm’s reach of his career averages.

Just the one homer, though.

“I’m not concerned about his power at all,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “If you look at the history of this guy, when it gets hot, he gets hot. He really turns it on. And he turns it on like you’ve never seen.

“I think he’s probably a little bit ahead of pace, really. He’s probably going to finish with 40 doubles, 25 home runs and 100-plus RBIs. The power numbers will come.”

Let’s check that “ahead of pace” claim:

A year ago, Cano had 12 homers and 31 RBIs through 43 games (although he was batting .295 with a .337 OBP). In 2012, he had only five homers and 17 RBIs through 43 games with a .304 average and .362 OBP.

And how did he finish?

Last year, at 27 homers and 107 RBIs with a .314 average and .383 OBP; and 2012, at 33 and 94 with .313 and .379. Bottom line: Last year, a lot of homers early; two years ago, a later power surge.

“At some point,” an opposing manager said recently, “that guy is going to start ripping it. You don’t want to be on the other side when that happens.”

One concern is Cano’s supporting cast. Even McClendon and general manager Jack Zduriencik acknowledge the need for at least one more productive bat.

The Mariners rank eighth among the 15 American League clubs at 4.14 runs per game. That’s dead in the middle and better than several contenders: Boston, Texas, Cleveland, Baltimore, Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

Cano says the Mariners possess sufficient weapons to support what he views as a superior pitching staff.

“You’ve got (Kyle) Seager,” Cano said. “He can rake. He can get the big hit at any time. You’ve got (Justin) Smoak. He can be pretty good. And (Dustin) Ackley. He’s quiet, so you don’t notice him a lot.

“So look, you’ve got five or six guys who, at any time, can get the big hit. They have proven it already at times this season. That’s the thing I see. And we’ve got pitching. If you don’t have pitching, what happens? You lose.”

And that pitching, Cano said, is only going to get better.

“Look at what we’ve (been dealing with),” he said. “We don’t have (Taijuan) Walker. We don’t have (James) Paxton. That’s two big arms, guys who have velocity.

“We didn’t have (Hisashi) Iwakuma for a month, and now he’s doing an outstanding job. It’s like your lineup. If you take out two or three guys, it makes a big difference. …There’s going to be a point when it all comes together. We’ve already got the best pitcher in the game; we’ve got Felix (Hernandez).

“And we’ve got Iwakuma. We’ve got Walker, Paxton and (Roenis) Elias. Elias knows how to pitch. Chris Young has been very good for us. We’ve got guys who you can ride every day.”

Read those words back, and they beg for clarification. So the question is asked: “You’ve been on good teams in New York. You know what it takes to win in this league. You’re saying the Mariners, these Mariners, can win?”

The response is immediate.

“Oh, for sure,” Cano said. “And you know what? I don’t think we’re too far away.”

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners are expected to recall infielder Nick Franklin from Triple-A Tacoma prior to Tuesday’s game at Texas. ... Designated hitter Corey Hart returned to Seattle to undergo further examination on his strained left hamstring. It is expected he will be placed on the disabled list. ... Paxton (back) and Walker (shoulder) are scheduled to pitch simulated games on Tuesday. ... Plans call for outfielder/DH Logan Morrison to test his strained right hamstring Tuesday, and if all goes well, he will likely depart on a minor league rehab assignment.

ON TAP

The Mariners open a two-game series against Texas at 5:05 p.m. PDT on Tuesday at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Right-hander Iwakuma (2-0, 1.59 ERA) will start against Rangers righty Colby Lewis (3-2, 4.99). Root Sports will broadcast the game.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners

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