"We expect him to be the good hitter he's always been," Girardi said then.
Two games into the season, Girardi's choice has made him look good.
"First two games, his approach has been outstanding," Girardi said after the Yankees' 6-4 victory Tuesday night at Fenway Park. "And actually maybe his approach has been more patient. Every RBI situation that he's had, he's done the job."
That wasn't the case last season, when Cano struggled with runners in scoring position, hitting .207, including an 0-for-22 stretch. It was a confounding number because he hit .320 for the season.
"That's my biggest concern, doing my job with men on base," Cano said before last night's game. "I was frustrated a little bit with that last year. Now it's a different year, I'm trying to put everything behind and go out there, swing at strikes and get something that I can drive."
So far so good.
On Sunday, Cano went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI. He was 2-for-3 Tuesday with a home run, a walk and two RBIs, including a sacrifice fly in a three-run fifth inning that produced a 4-3 lead. He said that was more memorable than the ninth-inning homer that made it 6-4.
"The home run, we were up," Cano said. "The sacrifice fly, we weren't up."
In talking last night, it became clear that his difficulty with runners in scoring position ate at him last year, so he made it a priority in Florida to correct it. His manager noticed.
"It really started with about two weeks to go in spring training, his approach got a lot better," Girardi said. "It was after the game that he faced Brett Myers [of the Astros] in Kissimmee [March 20]. He's done everything that you'd want from a fifth hitter."
Said Cano: "The only thing I'm doing is trying to swing at strikes. Just try to see the ball and make a good swing at it and pretty much not do what I did last year, chasing pitches, swinging at everything. I'm just trying to be more patient."
He's been about as patient and selective as a hitter can be. According to one statistical service, Cano has not gone after a ball out of the strike zone against the Red Sox.
"I'd say yes," Cano said when asked if he was surprised to know he'd swung only at strikes. "You guys know I've been one to swing at everything. But I'm being more patient. I have to give credit to myself, the way I've been working at it, the things K-Long has said, A-Rod has talked to me sometimes. That's something I want to keep doing the rest of the way."
Cano is shorting himself somewhat in terms of past pitch selection. Although he did tend to chase balls out of the strike zone last season with runners in scoring position, it wasn't a problem overall. He struck out 63 times (in 674 plate appearances) in 2009, second fewest behind Melky Cabrera (59) of the Yankees' regulars.
Cano said he "loves" hitting fifth but also knows the spot brings extra responsibilities.
"Especially being a guy behind those two guys, [Mark] Teixeira and Alex, and then [Jorge] Posada right behind me," he said. "It's an [important] spot on this team hitting fifth."