Cano's slam sign of better things to come
Yankees realize middle of batting order needs to heat up
Robinson Cano was taking abuse from all corners of the Yankees' bench. How could they not take a few swings at this? Here was one of the most productive hitters in the big leagues, owning a total of one home run and four RBIs a month into the season.
So a few of those wisecracks were in Cano's mind on Sunday as he trotted around the bases, having instantly doubled his output with a grand slam. The Royals' Luke Hochevar had to pay the biggest price, but Eduardo Nunez was sure going to hear about it.
"Nuney was making fun of me. He said, 'At least hit one ball into the middle,'" Cano said. "He was like, '[Chris] Stewart has more RBIs than you and he plays less games.' After that, I went to him and said, 'Now I'm on top.'"
Indeed, Cano has put some statistical breathing room between himself and the Yanks' backup catcher; now it's on to loftier goals. Perhaps a stressful four-game series in Kansas City -- one in which New York lost closer Mariano Rivera for the season -- will also be reflected upon as the weekend that got the heart of the lineup going.
The Yankees saw positive things from Alex Rodriguez, who bashed a three-run homer late in Sunday's action, and are hopeful that Mark Teixeira's typically slow start is about to turn. However, nothing was more encouraging to them than seeing Cano's lethal power come out of hibernation.
"It was huge," Rodriguez said. "It's hard to imagine that with one swing, [Cano] matches his home runs and his RBIs. Hopefully that's a great sign for us to come. We know that Robbie is going to do what he does, but it's nice for both of us to get it going."
Correcting the power outage from their No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters is vital. Without their production, manager Joe Girardi has doubts that the other batters in his lineup can hit enough to get the Yanks to the playoffs.
"It becomes much more difficult," Girardi said. "You have to have some really huge years out of guys. I think you can say that about any team, your other six guys would have to have some really huge years."
For all their flaws, it should be noted, the Yankees entered Monday's off-day third in the American League with 141 runs scored -- only the Rangers (146) and Red Sox (144) have plated more runs.
Yet even for a club where Derek Jeter is batting a Major League-best .397 entering Monday, Curtis Granderson is following up on a 41-homer season and Nick Swisher's contract push is off to a red-hot start, a few big hits out of the heart of the lineup go a long way to improve the mood.
"[A slow start] is not rare for me," Teixeira said. "But for all of us together, it is rare. We all have track records -- Alex longer than me, and me a little longer than Robbie. But we all know what we have to do to get back to producing."
As Cano recalled, he started much colder in 2008, batting as low as the .150s on May 7, so the struggles weren't unprecedented.
"You've got to go with whatever God gives you," said Cano, who had been hitting .154 with runners in scoring position before Sunday. "The last three years, I've been good. I can't complain about it. Sometimes you're not going to be the same guy all the time. We're human and we're going to go through tough situations."
Girardi said that his experiences in 2008 probably helped Cano, and he made oblique references to the Angels' Albert Pujols, who had been homerless until Sunday at a much higher pay grade than his second baseman.
"We know he's a little bit behind of where we expected him to be at this time of the year, but he's not the only hitter in Major League Baseball that's a little bit behind," Girardi said. "He'll catch up."
Rodriguez's case is a little more complex. The belief was that if the Yankees could keep the three-time AL MVP Award winner healthy, his levels of 30-homer, 100-RBI production would instantly return. Girardi has managed to keep his highest-paid player on the field, mixing in nine days as a designated hitter thus far, but A-Rod had produced just six extra-base hits entering play Sunday.
"Unless we're undefeated and you're hitting 1.000, my answer is always going to be the same," Rodriguez said. "I'm always going to expect more. But the key thing for us is to string hits together, put good at-bats together and find ways to win games."
As the Yankees prepared to board a charter flight out of Kansas City, their mood brightened despite a gloomy ongoing downpour. Girardi then voiced confidence that this would be the weekend that got the Yanks' lineup back on track.
"You sure hope so," he said. "And that's the way they have to look at it. I don't think these guys doubt themselves. I think they get frustrated when they look at the board and see the numbers, but I don't think they doubt themselves."