SEATTLE — In more than 2,000 Major League Baseball games in his 14 seasons, Robinson Cano had never played even an inning of third base until Wednesday, when he started there for the Seattle Mariners against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field.
Cano — who said he would play wherever the Mariners needed him since his return from an 80-game drug suspension — took Kyle Seager’s place at a position Seager has manned for 1,089 games. Cano spent a little extra time staring at the lineup card in the Mariners clubhouse on his way in.
“With Robbie over at third, we talked about his versatility and his willingness to go to those different spots and how we were going to do it. We’re doing it,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “(We want him to) go out and have fun with it and go play.”
That’s Cano’s fourth different position in the past four games. The two-time Gold Glove winner at second base played second Sunday, first base Monday and designated hitter Tuesday.
“You look at a guy like Dee Gordon, and he’s played shortstop (along with center field and second base), and it was like, ‘Just go out and field like you’re taking ground balls before the game. Don’t think about it too much. Just go play the game,’” Servais said. “Robbie has a tendency to make things look easy, so hopefully he can make it look easy at third.”
Before this year, the last time Cano played a game at third base was 2005 with Triple-A Columbus of the New York Yankees farm system.
Seager knew this day was coming because Cano had worked out at third base in the Dominican Republic during his suspension and played a rehab game there for short-season Single-A Everett. Servais said Wednesday was a day off for Seager, but this could be a more permanent thing with first baseman Ryon Healy’s at-bats being better of late and Seager mired with a career-low .223 batting average over 123 games this season.
Last year Seager posted a .249 average. He has a .274 on-base percentage after it was at .323 last year, and he has a career-low .684 OPS (on-base plus slugging).
Compare that to Cano, who is batting .293 with a .378 on-base percentage in 46 games (.848 OPS), and Healy, who has 23 home runs, a .241 average and .273 on-base percentage.
Seager’s supplied much of the same power numbers he has over his career, with 20 home runs this year and 29 doubles (believe it or not, Seager leads the Mariners with 49 extra-base hits this season). With one more extra-base hit Seager would be the second Mariners player in club history, joining Edgar Martinez, with seven consecutive seasons with at least 50 extra-base hits.
Servais pointed to Seager’s batting average on balls in play, which is at a career-worse .246, and said that’s partly because of shifts and Seager being unlucky.
Maybe all those shifts have had Seager focused too much on the gaping holes on the left side of the field instead of focusing on his strength — pulling the ball.
“He’s a pull hitter, no doubt, and some teams have shifted on him, but I do want Kyle to do what Kyle does really well and that’s pull the ball,” Servais said. “When he gets the ball in the air like he has, you don’t have to worry about the shift because it just goes over the fence.
“He’s a talented player, and he’s certainly put together hot streaks in the past. We’ve been waiting for one. You see it for two to three good days, and then he really cools down. We haven’t seen the extended one. I’m hoping it’s still there.”
Servais said the Mariners are considering whether to slide Mike Leake, who missed Tuesday’s scheduled start due to illness, back into the rotation for either Saturday or Sunday when they’re in Arizona playing the Diamondbacks.
The rotation had yet to be finalized, but Servais said Erasmo Ramirez would start Friday and that there was “zero percent chance” James Paxton would return to pitch this weekend, though he’s eligible to come off the disabled list Saturday.
They’d rather avoid having Paxton hit in the National League park, though they then head to San Diego after an off day on Monday. It’s more likely Paxton returns when the Mariners head to Oakland for a four-game series Aug. 30.
Nelson Cruz was back at DH on Wednesday after not starting Tuesday because of back spasms. Cruz struck out with one out and the game-tying run at third base when he entered as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s loss.
Servais said Cruz’s back had been an issue during the Mariners’ series against the Dodgers as well, and they’re not going to start him in the outfield when they lose their DH for interleague play.
“He hasn’t felt good physically, and he was a little bit run down coming off the last road trip,” Servais said. “He just hasn’t been quite the same, and you see it in the batter’s box.
“He’s good (Wednesday), and we’ll get an off day (Thursday) and a few days in the National League games when I’m not going to put him in the field. We haven’t done it all year, and I don’t think it’s fair to him, even though I think he would like to do it. You’re not going to see it happen. We’ll take a good ball game out of him (Wednesday) and see where it goes on the road trip.”
M’s release 2019 schedule
The Mariners released their tentative 2019 schedule Wednesday.
It begins with an opening two-game series in Japan against the Oakland Athletics, March 20-21, before four home games against the Boston Red Sox starting March 28.
Their interleague play is against the National League Central, with a home series against the Chicago Cubs from April 30-May 1, the St. Louis Cardinals from July 2-4 and the Cincinnati Reds from Sept. 10-12.
They travel to face the Milwaukee Brewers from June 25-27, to Chicago to face the Cubs at Wrigley Field from Sept. 2-3 and then to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates from Sept. 17-19.
Their stretch from Aug. 23-28 is six home games in back-to-back series against the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees — six consecutive games where the majority fan base with be uncertain.
The opening trip to Japan will be the Mariners first games there since 2012, and it will also include two exhibition games against teams from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League.