New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano (24) after hitting...

New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano (24) after hitting a double during bottom of the second inning against the Los Angeles Angels. (April 14, 2010) Credit: Newsday/Christopher Pasatieri

Robinson Cano hasn't made any major changes to his hitting stroke. Physically, he hasn't done much more than work hard in the batting cage with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.

But mentally, the 27-year-old seems like a different hitter this season. There's a confidence and maturity that make it seem as if Cano - who entered Friday night's game with a .395 average, four doubles, four home runs, nine RBIs, an .816 slugging percentage and six multi-hit games in the nine the Yankees have played - has turned a corner that many had hoped he'd turn in seasons past.

Even Cano himself was hoping for that.

"Of course. I would have liked to have done it my first year," Cano said Friday night before going 1-for-3 and scoring a run as the Yankees gave CC Sabathia a 5-1 lead over the Texas Rangers in the sixth inning of a rain-delayed game. "But this kind of thing you only learn [over] time. Not everybody can do it right away."

His new approach to hitting has been to simply "swing at more strikes," he said. It seems like an obvious thing, even to Cano now, but it took until spring training, when Long convinced him to not just try it out in exhibition games.

Cano has always been capable of putting a tough pitch in play, but that's not necessarily always a good thing. "If it's not a pitch you like, just take it," Cano said Long told him. "The way I was before, swinging at everything, the pitcher's never going to throw you anything you can hit.

"Even if I strike out, it's OK. The one thing for me is, I've never been afraid to fail."

The career .308 hitter has had some major failures, especially with runners in scoring position; he hit .207 (38-for-184) in those situations last season and entered Friday night's game at .256 in his career. (Cano was at 3-for-12 with five RBIs with RISP this year.)

Hitting fifth behind Derek Jeter, Nick Johnson, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would allow anyone to hit with runners on base a high percentage of the time.

"These kinds of things are like luck - sometimes you hit a blooper with the bases loaded and it falls in, sometimes you hit it hard right at somebody," he said. "I always like to hit with men on base. You fail, you go back and be positive. That's what I'm going to do."

It's not always what Cano did, though. His attitude seemed more indifferent than unaffected or cool. But in addition to a sharper approach to hitting, much has been made of a spring training chat he had with Rodriguez, who helped remind Cano what being a serious hitter is all about.

"Part of it is just maturing as a player," Joe Girardi said. "Understanding that every year, you take what you know and try to make yourself a better player. He's matured a lot over the last couple years, and we're seeing that."

The lefthanded-hitting Cano has always had the talent to succeed in his six seasons with the Yankees. He hit .342 and made the All-Star team in 2006, his second season, and has had similar success against lefthanders (.800 OPS) and righthanders (.833). He has always known what it took. It just took some time for it to sink in.

"When you're hitting good, you always feel good mentally at the plate," he said. "Right now, I'm just working hard and keeping the same approach at the plate, swinging at more strikes. He [Long] doesn't need to tell me. I know what it is."

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