EVERETT — Before the Everett AquaSox began batting practice Thursday at Everett Memorial Stadium, Seattle Mariners star second baseman Robinson Cano and Sox third baseman Bobby Honeyman had a brief chat on the edge of the infield, with Cano even trying on Honeyman’s glove.
Thursday marked a big moment for Cano, who took the next step in his preparations for returning to the Mariners from suspension.
And the meeting was a big moment for Honeyman, a New York native who grew up idolizing Cano when Cano played for the New York Yankees.
“It’s unbelievable,” Honeyman said. “I’m from New York and I grew up a huge Yankees fan, so I got to watch him every day — he was one of my favorite players. It’s just awesome to have him around, just to learn from and hopefully pick a few things that we can all take into our careers.”
Thursday was the first of what’s expected to be four games for Cano with the AquaSox, Seattle’s affiliate in the short-season Single-A Northwest League. Cano is nearing the end of an 80-game suspension levied by Major League Baseball for testing positive for the banned substance Furosemide, which can be used as a masking agent for performance-enhancing drugs. Cano, who was suspended on May 15, is eligible to rejoin the Mariners for Tuesday’s game at Oakland, and Everett is his last stop before returning to the big leagues.
“I feel ready right now,” Cano said prior to Thursday’s AquaSox game against the Eugene Emeralds. “I feel I’m at the major-league level right now. I never went away from the game, I was practicing and doing my exercises, I wasn’t resting or anything. I‘ve been preparing myself for whenever I get back.”
Cano, before a packed house at Everett Memorial, started at first base and batted second in the order. In his four at-bats, he bounced into a double play in the bottom of the first inning; smashed a two-run home run to right-center in the bottom of the second; laced a double down the right-field line in the bottom of the fifth; and added a single in the seventh before being lifted for a pinch-runner. He was also charged with an error in the top of the third when he couldn’t handle a hot grounder to first. Everett lost to Eugene 10-6.
Cano declined to comment on the circumstances that led to his suspension.
This is Cano’s second stint with one of Seattle’s minor-league affiliates. Players suspended by Major League Baseball can begin playing games in the minors two weeks prior to regaining eligibility, and Cano spent Monday and Tuesday with the Tacoma Rainiers of the triple-A Pacific Coast League. In those two games Cano went 2-for-7 with a walk.
The most notable thing about Cano’s time in Tacoma is that he played first base, which is an unfamiliar position for him. Cano has played the entirety of his 14-year major-league career at second. However, Dee Gordon, who was converted into a center fielder by the Mariners because they already had Cano at second, moved back to second base during Cano’s suspension. Because Cano’s suspension means he’s also ineligible for the postseason, Seattle has decided to keep Gordon at second and use Cano at other positions when he returns.
Cano played first base for Everett on Thursday, then he’s expected to play second base on Friday and third base on Saturday before returning to first on Sunday.
“I guess it was good,” Cano said about playing first base for Tacoma. “I don’t know much about first base, but I guess it was good.
“I have to adjust,” Cano added about the position switch. “It’s not about me, it’s about the team. Whatever I can do to help.”
The Mariners initially played well in Cano’s absence, putting themselves comfortably in playoff position, even challenging the defending World Series-champion Houston Astros for the lead in the American League West. However, it’s been rougher seas of late. While Seattle beat the Astros 8-6 in Houston Thursday night, the Mariners are in third place, 2½ games out of wild-card contention, behind New York and Oakland.
“It’s been hard,” Cano said about having to watch Seattle’s slide from afar. “It’s hard to watch, not only the last month but the whole time I’ve been out. But you have to give credit to the guys, they have played so well. Baseball is like life, you have ups and downs. You just have to be ready when the downs come and get out of there as fast as you can.”
While Cano is readying himself for a return to the majors, his presence represents an opportunity for Everett’s players.
“It’s good,” was Sox manager Jose Moreno’s assessment of what it means to have a player of Cano’s stature in the clubhouse for a few days. “The kids can learn from his routine, see how he takes batting practice and how he prepares to play the game. At this level it’s very important to have a good foundation to launch a career.”