David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Yankee Stadium was virtually empty around 3 o'clock Wednesday afternoon. With temperatures in the low-50s, and a light rain falling, it was not the best of conditions for holding a bat. But there stood Robinson Cano, a knit cap pulled down tight on his head, swatting at underhand pitches from coach Kevin Long.
It would be another two hours before the rest of the Yankees took batting practice, and many chose the indoor option to avoid the chilly weather. Evidently, Cano doesn't feel he can afford such luxuries, not when he's hitting .255 with one home run and four RBIs after the first 24 games.
As for the Yankees, it's been a disturbing stretch, and they hit an early low point with Wednesday's 5-0 loss to the Orioles. Three runs in three games? Either Baltimore is for real -- or maybe the Yankees are not.
"We're better than we showed the last three days," said Mark Teixeira, who went 0-for-3 and did not hit a ball out of the infield as his average slipped to .226. "We've been really good at scoring runs all year, but the last three days we just haven't got it done."
Girardi called it "shocking" to see Cano, a perennial MVP candidate, come up short so often, describing him as one notch below Mariano Rivera on the Yankees' infallible meter. Cano went 1-for-4, but whiffed twice, including both times Alex Rodriguez was camped at first base.
How bad were the Yankees? The day after getting beat by Brian Matusz, who had lost 12 in a row, they didn't make it as far as second base in suffering a second straight loss to the Orioles. You read that correctly. The Yankees' entire output was five singles, including two by A-Rod (neither was a bunt). They also didn't draw a walk for the first time this season.
"We're just not swinging the bats very well right now," Girardi said. "We haven't for the last few days, and you're going to go through those periods as an offense. It's just part of the game."
Cano's malaise is probably the most surprising, but he's hardly the only one at fault for the Yankees' sputtering offense. The two sandwiched around Cano for Wednesday night's game -- Rodriguez and Teixeira -- haven't exactly been earning their combined $51.5-million salary for this year. The scuffling Rodriguez resorted to bunting for a base hit in Tuesday's loss to the Orioles and Teixeira, a notoriously slow starter, has a slugging percentage (.366) below Derek Jeter's batting average (.385).
Distracted by their rotation issues, the Yankees figure the offensive problems will resolve themselves. After all, Jeter was hitting .400 through his first 100 at-bats and Curtis Granderson was tied with Josh Hamilton atop the American League with nine home runs. But that's only the Yankees' top two hitters. With Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner on the shelf until next week -- at the earliest -- the power drain is a growing concern.
The Yankees have been unable to cover for the absence of Swisher's .617 slugging percentage and 23 RBIs, which is third in the AL. Making matters worse, they sustained another damaging blow in the fifth inning when Eric Chavez had to leave with whiplash and a possible concussion.
Girardi had talked before the game about how Cano was hitting the ball hard and not being rewarded. There could be some statistical proof to that. Entering Wednesday, Cano's batting average on balls in play was .274, well below his career mark of .320, an indication that some of those hits could begin to fall. That's what Girardi suggested to him during a mound visit the other night.
"I told him, look at all the green out there," Girardi said, "and you happened to hit right where the guy was standing. I tried to make light of it because it's frustrating. But that will change. I guarantee it."
If not Cano, then someone has to step up in a hurry. Three runs in three games? Never before have the Yankees been happier to head to Kansas City.