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Home runs slow in coming, but Mariners in awe of their new second baseman

by: COURTESY OF MEG WILLIAMS - Robinson Cano brings solid hitting and success from the New York Yankees to the Seattle Mariners, two traits the Amerian League West club has lacked in recent years.SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners didn’t pay $240 million to Robinson Cano for the veteran second baseman to be a senior adviser to his teammates.

That’s simply one of the bonuses of signing, in the words of manager Lloyd McClendon, “one of the five best hitters in all of baseball.”

Cano has been doing his part at the plate. The five-time All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner with the New York Yankees went into Monday night’s game at Texas tied for seventh in the American League with a .333 batting average.

But his teammates have quickly grown to appreciate some of the intangibles the 10-year veteran has to offer.

“It’s been awesome,” third baseman Kyle Seager says. “He’s a phenomenal player, but he’s a really good dude — really open to talk about anything. You can pick his brain about offense, defense, anything. He has a lot of knowledge to share.

“There aren’t a lot of guys who have had the success he’s had. We’ve had some veteran guys in here who have been great, and he’s the exact same way. If you’re hitting in the cages, he’ll work with you. He’s generous with his time. he’s been really good.”

“Just his presence in general has been great to have,” left fielder Dustin Ackley says. “Day in and day out, seeing him up to the plate and what he’s capable of doing, it’s fun to watch.

“When you have a really likable, veteran guy who is willing to help and is performing, that’s huge. All the great teams making the playoffs have leaders like that. He’s going to help everybody else along the way. He’ll pick some guys up, and we’re going to pick him up — but he’s probably going to pick us up a lot more than we pick him up.”

Cano considers it payback, and just the right thing to do.

“When I was a young kid, I had guys who helped me, taught me things,” says Cano, 31, who is reaping $24 million a year from the Mariners over the next 10 seasons. “This game is about those kind of guys, and what you can do as a group. I want to be there for the young guys.”

Some of the younger Mariners can’t get over the fact they’re playing alongside the great Robinson Cano.

“There’s still an ‘awe’ factor with me, being one of my idols growing up,” says Stefen Romero, the rookie outfielder from Oregon State. “Everything he brings to the table — baseball knowledge, the way he goes about his business, the way he interacts with players — has been good. You don’t have to be a vocal leader. You can lead by example. That’s what he’s really good at.”

“When the Yankees are on TV, what kid doesn’t stop and watch them?” rookie catcher Mike Zunino says. “I watched him and (Derek) Jeter and (Jorge) Posada and all those guys. It’s awesome to be able to play with him now.

“Everyone can say they’ve learned something from him already, and it’s only been spring training and a few more ballgames. He’s so talented, and that rubs off on everybody, that they want to follow in his footsteps. He bring a winning mentality here. It just takes one guy with that experience to carry it over.”

Cano’s departure from New York after nine years with the Yankees drew the eyes of skeptics, who figured the move as a money grab. The contract was a big part of it, for sure. But Cano also liked the challenge of helping lift a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2001 to the next level.

“I want us to get to the World Series,” he says. “Maybe it doesn’t happen this year, but I think it can happen.”

After Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Oakland, Seattle owned a .225 team batting average, tied for second-worst in the AL. Cano was the only Mariner regular hitting over .260.

“I don’t really pay attention to (stats),” Cano says. “It’s about going out there and winning. If you hit really good or you hit really bad, doesn’t matter how you win. Sometimes it’s with pitching and defense. I think we’ll hit enough to keep us winning.”

To the consternation of the Seattle media — and some of the area’s fans — Cano has yet to hit his first home run as a Mariner. McClendon is a bit defensive on the subject.

“What I’d like to see Robbie do is lead the league in doubles, not home runs,” McClendon says. “I know we’re all waiting on (his first homer), and I’m sure he is, too. But that’s not a concern of mine. If I have to worry about Robinson Cano, then I should quit right now. When it’s all said and done, his numbers will be right where they’re supposed to be.”

Cano is the only player in major-league history to record at least 25 homers and 40 doubles in five consecutive seasons, which he has done the last five years.

“I’m a guy who hits a lot of doubles,” Cano nods. “I’m not trying to hit homers. I’m just trying to hit the ball hard, to hit line drives.”

McClendon knows he can pencil Cano’s name into the lineup every day. Through Sunday, he had missed 14 of a possible 1,146 games in his career.

“I just love to play,” he says. “Want to be there every night for my team.”

Cano doesn’t want to put a number on how many games the Mariners can win this season.

“There’s no goal in terms of wins and losses,” he says. “I don’t want to jinx us by saying, ‘We want to do this, we want to do that.’ We want to compete every night and win some games.”

Seattle outfielder Corey Hart played with the likes of Ryan Braun, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Prince Fielder during his eight seasons with Milwaukee.

“I was fortunate to play with some stars,” Hart says. “When you have a game-changer on your team, it makes a big difference. It makes guys play better when you know (Cano) is there. It picks everybody else’s level of play up, too. It’s nice to have him on our side.”

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