"He's always been somewhat projected, especially after his first year, that eventually he would move up in the lineup," Girardi said before the Yankees' 10-5 loss to the Pirates. "He's got so much ability and tools. Young players, sometimes you want to ease them in, but to me, Robby's not a young player anymore. Even though he's young on this team."
Cano, 27, hit .320 last season with a career-best 25 homers and 85 RBIs, the second-best total of his five-year career. His weakness, which he's acknowledged, came with runners in scoring position, a situation in which he had a .207 batting average, .242 on-base percentage and .332 slugging percentage. "I'm going to have to step it up early in the season," he said.
Girardi said the lineup he sends out when the Yankees next take the field, Tuesday night against the Astros, will be "pretty close'' to what it will be Opening Night in Boston April 4.
Girardi, while adding that "nothing's etched in stone," played coy in terms of providing specific names, though he did give a profile of what he's looking for in spots 5-9.
"If you're going to hit a lefthander fifth, you'd prefer to have a switch hitter sixth,'' Girardi said. "And then maybe another lefthander seventh and another switch hitter eighth and then maybe another lefthander.''
The lefthanded-hitting Cano hit .326 against righthanded pitchers and .309 against lefthanders and actually had a better OPS against lefthanders, .876 to .869.
Cano knows his troubles with runners in scoring position can't continue. "I thank Girardi for trusting me with the opportunity to hit in front of Posada and behind A-Rod," Cano said. "But [Rodriguez] is a guy that you want somebody behind so they [have to] pitch to him."
Cano is not unfamiliar with hitting fifth, having done so in 50 games last season. In those games, he hit .299 with a .318 on-base percentage, but he saw most of his time (61 games) in the seventh spot, where he hit .328 with a .368 OBP. He had nine of his home runs and 30 of his RBIs in 235 at-bats while hitting seventh.
Girardi likes Cano's power potential in the five-hole but said he's there for another reason. He struck out 63 times (in 674 plate appearances) in 2009, second fewest behind Melky Cabrera (59) of the Yankees' regulars.
Granderson, considered for the fifth spot as well as the second, struck out 141 times in 710 plate appearances last season.
"Power's not so important to me, it's the ability to hit for average," Girardi said. "Robby's not going to strike out much.''
Cano said his thoughts on hitting fifth are the same as hitting seventh or anywhere else in the lineup. "Everybody can hit in this lineup," he said. "Whether you hit seventh, eighth, you're always going to find men on base. So I'm going to keep the same approach and swing at strikes."
Girardi doesn't think Cano will put pressure on himself to increase his power numbers. "I don't anticipate him trying to hit more home runs if we hit him fifth or hit him seventh," he said. "I expect him to be the good hitter he is wherever we hit him."