Second baseman Robinson Cano arrived Thursday for the start of full-squad drills in the Mariners camp and immediately began putting out some offseason fires.
First, he contends he never said he regretted his December 2013 decision to sign with the Mariners or longed to return to the New York Yankees — as was suggested in November by the New York Post, which cited a “friend” as a source.
“I never said that,” Cano insisted. “I don’t know where they find it. They always say source or friend. I never talked to a friend or anybody.
“I will tell you guys, I’m happy to be here and happy to get my chance here to be able to play to the end of my career, and have fun with the guys and (play in) a city that has treated me so nice.”
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Second, Cano brushed aside sharp criticism from former coach Andy Van Slyke, who contended in a November radio interview that Cano was “just the most awful player I have ever seen.”
Van Slyke blamed Cano’s performance early last season for the subsequent firings of general manager Jack Zduriencik, manager Lloyd McClendon and the nearly all of the coaching staff.
“Honestly, it didn’t hurt me,” Cano said, “because coming from a guy like (Van Slyke), it doesn’t bother me at all. Because I know how I played. You guys know.
“If you heard the comments, first he threw me under the bus, and then he was like (saying) what’s so great about me. You didn’t know what he was trying to say. Andy, it doesn’t even matter to me.”
Van Slyke said, “Cano was the single worst, third-place, everyday player I’ve ever seen for the first half of a baseball season. He couldn’t drive home Miss Daisy if he tried. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t get a hit when it mattered.
“He played the worst defense I’ve ever seen — I’m talking about the worst defensive second baseman, ever, I’ve ever seen in 24 years in the big leagues.”
Cano acknowledged a poor stretch — perhaps the worst of his 11-year career — through the season’s early months. He batted .236 through June 16, with a .277 on-base percentage and a .323 slugging percentage.
But Van Slyke’s comments caught him by surprise.
“I was home,” he said. “A lot of people called me, and I said, ‘I’m not going to waste my time and say anything back.’ I got a call from the Mariners (organization) apologizing because he said all of that stuff.
“He was a guy that always talked to me. Then he says that. I don’t know how come he said everybody got fired because of me.”
Mostly, though, Cano wants to turn the page. He contends he is “98 percent” recovered from surgery in October for a double sports hernia, and is looking to avoid another sluggish start.
“I feel good,” he said, “but I haven’t played. I’ve been running. I’ve been doing exercises and everything feels good. It’s good to be back healthy and be able to start spring training.
“There’s no pain. The doctor said, ‘You’re going to wake up, and you’re going to feel tightness.’ That’s part of the process. But I’m able to run, and I’ve been swinging with no pain.”
Cano, 33, suffered the injury, initially believed to be an abdominal strain, on July 28. He missed three games before returning to the lineup and, remarkably, putting together a strong finishing kick.
While limited on defense by a lack of first-step quickness, Cano batted .328 in 58 games after returning to the lineup, with 10 homers and 37 RBIs. He had a .377 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage in that span.
That late push boosted Cano’s final numbers to .287/.334/.446, with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 156 games. He finished his first season with the Mariners at .314/.382/.454, with 14 homers and 82 RBIs in 157 games.
“It affected me a lot,” he said of the injury. “There were times when I wasn’t able to sleep. I don’t like to look for excuses, but it was a hard time for me and only my family knows that.
“There was a day when I told the trainer, ‘I can’t do this any more. We’ve got to find a way (to treat this). My body … sometimes, I’m on the field, and I run to first base and feel so tired.’
“But, thank God, I’m healthy, and I’m back. My season is going to start today.”
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners