Robinson Cano takes advantage of second chance

Robinson Cano smiles after hitting a solo home

Robinson Cano smiles after hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. (April 8, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

CLEVELAND

Whether it was the World Baseball Classic or the whole Jay-Z affair or maybe just the missing weapons in the Yankees' lineup, Robinson Cano didn't look right through the first six games of the regular season.

Moved to the No. 2 hole, between Brett Gardner and Kevin Youkilis, Cano didn't feel much like himself, either. "I'm going to be honest,'' he said. "You guys know I never hit second.''

And just like that, Cano confirmed some of the awkwardness he's experienced in that new role. This time, though, he did so after Monday's 11-6 rout of the Indians, a game in which Cano used that spot in the order as a launching pad to personally wreck Cleveland's home opener.

Cano hit his first two homers of the season on the first pitches he saw in the fifth and sixth innings. He also drew a walk in the first, coming around on Travis Hafner's three-run homer, and led off the third with a double before scoring on Hafner's single.

Maybe the surroundings helped. Cano has hit safely in 10 straight games at Progressive Field, dating to 2010. Or perhaps it's just that Cano, the MVP of the WBC after batting .469 with two homers and six RBIs, was due.

"I got some pitches in the strike zone that I didn't miss this time,'' Cano said. "I was able to put a good swing on them.''

Sounds simple enough. But Cano's life already has been more complicated this season for a number or reasons. His looming free agency is a huge part of that, and that became an even bigger distraction last week when Cano announced he was switching agents from Scott Boras to a new Jay-Z-launched partnership with CAA.

For a few days, Cano's bold jump siphoned attention from the Yankees' myriad problems, and it was labeled another distraction neither the team nor Cano needed to begin the season. It was a logical assumption, and when viewed through the prism of last October's vanishing act, the perception was that Cano might be a player who can struggle with the spotlight. Or that he might have been hurt by the Jay-Z publicity.

His manager disagreed. "I really haven't ever seen anything change Robby's attitude,'' Joe Girardi said. "No matter what he's going through, he comes to the ballpark ready to work, with a smile on his face, having fun.

"And I'm sure Robby doesn't go home and read every newspaper and listen to every talk show and think, 'What are they saying about me?' I think Robby just likes to go out and play. That's what he does.''

As for the No. 2 spot, Cano probably likes it a little bit more now that he's done some damage in what had been an unfamiliar role. That's also good for the Yankees, because it doesn't sound as though Girardi has any plans to drop him into the middle of the order anytime soon.

Girardi moved him to second last Thursday, and his reasoning had to do with getting the Yankees' best hitter as many at-bats as possible. He also says he doesn't have much of a choice.

The one option that sticks out would be to hit Youkilis second with his .433 on-base percentage and ability to split up the lefties. Next up would be Cano, then maybe Vernon Wells and Hafner. But for now, Girardi seems resistant to that.

"We'll probably stay with this,'' Girardi said. "Could we change it later? Maybe. When you have injuries, you have to make adjustments, and that's what we've had to do.''

Judging by the assault on the Indians, Cano seems to be coping better with the move. And if that continues, the Yankees will be a much more dangerous team wherever he winds up.