Slumping Cano receives rest
Girardi gives Gonzalez start at second base against Astros
HOUSTON -- When Robinson Cano experienced his last prolonged funk, he was pulled out of the lineup for a game at Tropicana Field. Benched as a slugfest proceeded to the late innings, he watched everyone else do the things that he -- for whatever reason -- was not able to do.
Then, with the game on the line, Cano sprang into action and saw his bat come to life, slugging a pinch-hit home run that lifted the Yankees to an 8-7 victory over the Rays on April 14.
With Cano hitless over his past 17 at-bats and as befuddled as ever, manager Joe Girardi is ready to see if the same trick can work twice. Cano was held out of the Yankees' lineup on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, with recent callup Alberto Gonzalez drawing the start at second base against the Astros.
"I just think he has had a tough time being consistent this year," Girardi said of Cano. "It seems like he has three good days and then a couple of bad days. For whatever reason, he hasn't gotten on that extended roll that we all know he's capable of doing."
Watching his batting average fall to .217, Cano has gone hitless on the road trip, including an 0-for-3 collar on Friday with a walk while batting second.
Cano called it "bad luck," and Girardi said that he does not believe Cano's confidence has been shaken. But Girardi acknowledged that there is frustration in the 25-year-old's game.
"It's tough," Cano said. "You know the team needs you to get on base, and I'm not helping them do anything right now. It's tough hitting [.217] right now, but I'll keep fighting and working hard."
Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said that the topic of Cano's contract came up this week with Don Mattingly, now a special assignment coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees made a huge bet on Cano's future potential by signing him to a four-year, $30 million deal before the season, and Mattingly wondered if Cano might be trying to live up to the deal.
"He said, subconsciously, [Cano] might be thinking about that contract," Long said. "Donnie said he did. You work hard to get a contract, you get it, and it's like -- all right, I can relax now. He said, 'You tell him to go out there and keep playing, and keep going about his business, and not have that on his mind.'"
Cano heard Mattingly's advice, but said of the contract, "Honestly, I haven't thought about that."
Trying a variety of different approaches -- early batting practice, late work, extra reps and even periodic days off -- Long said that he has advised Cano to adjust to a more compact and aggressive swing, which would help him explode on balls.
"His work ethic is tremendous," Long said. "In Oakland he was the first one in the cage every day. He goes about it the way you're supposed to. When you're struggling, you need to get in there."
Long said that Cano hit two balls in Oakland that were chased down by Daric Barton but could have been hits. That's small consolation for Cano, who probably won't equal his performance from last year, when he hit .306. He certainly won't rank third in the American League again, as he did by batting .342 in 2006.
"I'm not going to say it's all luck, because it's not," Long said. "He's struggling. We'll continue to work. His BP yesterday was terrific. Out of all the guys who swung the bat yesterday, I thought he was the best. Here we are in the middle of June, and he's hitting .217. Let's say he catches fire -- he's probably looking, at best, at .285. His average is probably going to be down, because he's dug himself such a hole.
"We need Robinson Cano to be a factor, to contribute and drive in runs. Right now, obviously, that's not the case. I'm disappointed, sure. I'm sure he's disappointed. But we have to go with the history of this guy, and the history says that he's going to hit."
There is a good chance that Cano's day off, like the game in St. Petersburg two months ago, will not be a complete day off. He went through the same batting practice routines on Saturday, because the Yanks' playing by National League rules in Houston may call for his use as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement.
Defense is the one aspect of Cano's game that he appears pleased with, taking heeding some advice from former Yankees infield coach Larry Bowa.
"It's something that I learned with Bowa -- if you're not hitting good, do it with defense," Cano said. "It's something that I always remember from him. I miss him, I'm not going to lie. That's something that he told me that I remember when he was here."
Part of the reason for adding Gonzalez on Friday -- New York shipped Shelley Duncan to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a corresponding move -- was to give the Yankees flexibility at second base. Cano has started 15 consecutive games, and Gonzalez provides a chance for Cano to at least catch his breath. Long suggested that with an off-day looming on Monday, another day out of the lineup could be in store.
"If we win this game, it might not be a bad idea to give him another one, to give him three full days," Long said. "It might be the remedy. We've tried everything else, you know?"
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.