Robinson Cano working hard and heating up
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The stadium was empty and still when he walked out to home plate a full hour before the rest of his teammates begin filing in. Hitting coach Kevin Long had set up a screen at the plate that forced Cano to swing short and tight and pull the ball as he tossed him soft underhand pitches from about 20 feet away.
The Yankees call this the "home run drill," and Cano put in hours practicing whacking the ball into the stands.
That hard work started to pay off Friday night in the opener of the three-game series against the Mets. Cano, who entered the game with six hits and only one RBI in his last 24 at-bats, continued with the home drill long after his screen and hitting coach had left the field. He hit two-run home runs off the Mets' Johan Santana in the second and third innings to set the foundation for a 9-1 Yankees win.
Cano continued to put his bat to the ball early in the second game of the series Saturday night, singling to leftfield in the first inning. He went 1-for-4 in the Yankees' 4-2 victory over the Mets, leaving him at .293.
"He works extremely hard," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's here early every day, trying to get his stroke in order. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to find it."
Through the first third of the season, Cano's numbers haven't been awful, but they haven't been very Cano-like. The two first-pitch blasts off Santana gave him 11 home runs and 29 RBIs, not the sort of numbers you would like to see from a cleanup hitter in the prime of his career on one of the most talented rosters in baseball.
Some of his struggles have been inexplicable, defying the talent that everyone on the team knows he has.
For example, Cano usually hits lefthanders well, but until the two homers off Santana, he had only one home run in 75 at-bats against lefties.
He also has struggled with runners in scoring position. Entering Saturday night , he was 8-for-54 (.149) with runners in scoring position, the second-worst average of anyone with 60 plate appearances this season.
Cano said early in the week that things weren't going quite the way he wanted them to. "I haven't been doing my job with men on base,'' he said.
After his two homers Friday night, however, things were better.
"Honestly, I wasn't frustrated because this is a long season,'' he said. "You're going to play 162 games and I'm not gonna be successful every time up. All I do it go out there and stay positive and be aggressive. I've done some good things the last few days and [soon] I'll be abe to hit with men on base, which is what you want."