By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Second baseman Robinson Cano is absent again from the Seattle Mariners on another short personal hiatus. This time, he’s back in the Dominican Republic to attend to a family matter.
Club officials knew about the issue in advance, and manager Lloyd McClendon said Cano is expected to return in time for Tuesday night’s game against San Diego.
The trip coincides with the Mariners’ first camp open date, Monday, and minimizes his absence. But it also begs a question: Will Cano find time for another round of broomstick-and-beans before he returns?
That story quickly made the rounds early last week after he explained how he honed his batting eye during a four-day recovery from an infection in his mouth that prompted root-canal surgery.
Yep, hitting black beans with a broomstick.
“I have to keep my eyes on the beans because they’re so little,” he explained. “You have to follow them all the way. That’s what you want in the game. You want to follow the pitch all the way.”
That makes a great image, doesn’t it? And the story got big play. Then again, everything about Cano seems to get big play since he spurned the Yankees by signing a 10-year deal with the Mariners for $240 million.
“I love this game,” he explained, “and I didn’t want to sit at home and not do anything. That’s what I did the last two days (of his absence).”
Cano then rocked three straight singles last Monday in his return to the lineup. The first two came against Royals ace James Shields. The other was against former All-Star reliever Aaron Crow.
Beans and a broomstick.
Manager Lloyd McClendon spent the last seven years as the hitting coach in Detroit but said he’s never heard of that technique.
“That’s a pretty good one,” he said. “Maybe I ought to have all of the rest of players do the same thing.”
The broomstick story muted attention from a stir Cano created earlier in spring by seeming to chide the Mariners for not doing more to improve their roster after he agreed to his mega-deal.
“I’m not going to lie,” he told CBSSports.com. “We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat. We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty.”
The story attracted scant notice in the Northwest, where the Mariners’ need (and search) for a right-handed bat is well-known. Further, Cano has consistently maintained he’s only a piece of the puzzle.
He cited the need for “a lot of good players” on multiple occasions as the only way to “build a good team.”
But elsewhere, particularly in New York, it was seen as evidence that discontent had already set in. That he dismissed that suggestion got lost in the storm.
“I don’t want to say that we are close,” Cano said, “but I know we have a team that can compete. We have some good young talent and some good pitching.”
But, yes, like pretty much like any player, he’d welcome roster additions that would improve the club.
It is also drawing notice — little doesn’t — that while he is 14-for-23 this spring in nine games, all but two of his hits are singles.
That does seem more Ichiro than Cano, who averaged 45 doubles and 28 homers over the last five seasons.
Far from a concern, he contends his diminished spring power is by design.
“The goal at spring training,” Cano said, “is just to work on my swing. Middle away. I’m not trying to pull or get out front. Like I always say, ‘I’m not a home run guy.’”
He follows this approach in batting practice. Cano’s swing is an easy flick of the wrists toward the ball, much like a frog snapping its tongue at a fly. It’s rare that he doesn’t make solid contact, although the ball rarely reaches the track.
It is, exactly, what McClendon wants to see from everyone at this point.
“One of our challenges is to get guys to understand how you take batting practice,” McClendon said. “Because look: This is the only time you have to
work on your craft. For me, hitting home runs in BP means nothing.
“I want to see the (swing) path. I want to see you staying inside the ball. … That’s what I’m trying to get my guys to understand.”
All they need to do is watch.
“I don’t want to leave training feeling good because the ball is flying here,” Cano said. “It doesn’t count here how many homers you hit here. You just want to get your swing ready for the regular season.”
Now, he’s gone again for a few days.
That might mean another helping of black beans. Served soft and easy.
With a stick.