Notes: Cano continues to mature
July hot streak restores second baseman's confidence at plate
BALTIMORE -- It's hard to tell a 24-year-old that he's struggling when he's batting .269 through the first three months of the season. But that was the general discussion surrounding Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano at the end of June.Cano has come to life in July, though, and he looks more like the dynamic young hitter who batted .297 in 2005 and .342 in his outstanding sophomore season. Even through New York's two losses in Baltimore on Friday and Saturday, Cano went 3-for-8 and continued his torrid pace against Orioles pitchers that baffled many of his elder teammates. "It's nice to see the kid's personality right now at the plate," Yankees manager Joe Torre said before Sunday's game. "Early on, he was stumbling around and struggling, but to have him come back the way he has, for the [opposing] defenses, you don't know where to play him." Cano's July numbers are impressive, to say the least. He entered Sunday batting .384, his second-highest single-month average in his three years in the Majors, and he has hit five home runs after notching just one in each of the first three months of the season. "At the beginning, I was swinging at everything, but now, I'm swinging at my pitches," Cano said. "I have to be patient, swing at strikes and wait for something that I can drive. Don't just swing at everything." Patience is something that has certainly paid off for the Dominican Republic native. Cano hasn't drawn many free passes over his first few years in the Majors, but he has walked seven times this month, a career high. "He doesn't walk much, but he's sort of like Yogi Berra," Torre said. "There's no safe place where you can get him out on a regular basis because he's reacting to the ball. Right now, he's as comfortable as I've seen him all year." Torre said that a major factor in guiding Cano out of his slump over the first half of the season was the help he got from third-base coach Larry Bowa and the experienced players around him, like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu and Melky Cabrera. "I think he learned a lot this year and he continues to learn," Torre said. "One thing about my coaching staff and the people he plays around is that all these guys keep an eye on him. If there's something they can help him with, they do it, and the kid is very receptive to it. A lot of this stuff comes easy to him because of how talented he is, but he certainly knows the work ethic." With Cano's average now hovering around .300, he said he's having more fun in the clubhouse thanks to New York's winning record and his ability to contribute to his club's success. He entered Sunday batting .466 (27-for-58) with two homers and 13 RBIs in his last 15 games, including 10 multi-hit games, and the Yanks are 10-5 over that stretch. "Almost everybody helped me a little bit and told me to keep my head up," Cano said. "Everybody's going to go through it, and that's when you need to show that you can play this game. That's when you have fun, when you help the team like this." Comfortable catcher: Backup catcher Jose Molina started for the second time in four games on Sunday after coming to the Yankees from the Angels on July 21 in exchange for right-handed Minor League pitcher Jeff Kennard. Molina went 2-for-4 with a double in his Yankees debut. Although Torre said that he was pleased with catcher Wil Nieves, who hit .164 in 26 games with New York this year, he prefers the experience that Molina provides behind the plate. "I'm more comfortable," Torre said of having Molina to back up starting catcher Jorge Posada. "The fact that Jose has been a regular catcher on a team is great. Just watching his first game the other day, he knows what to do." Orioles outfielder Corey Patterson was caught stealing second base by Molina in the first inning on Sunday afternoon. A-rod watch: Rodriguez's search for his 500th career home run is coming slowly, and Torre said it's because his All-Star third baseman is being overanxious at the plate, partially due to the pressure of hitting the milestone homer. "He's been increasing his [strike] zone for the last few days," Torre said. "It's human. When you look at the all the things he's done, you put human on the back burner because he's seemed so robotic at times." But Rodriguez's robotic nature has subsided, as he entered Sunday 0-for-10 since hitting his home run No. 499 off Gil Meche in Kansas City on Wednesday. "It would help everybody concerned to get this thing over with," Torre said. On the mend: Injured designated hitter Jason Giambi started both games of a doubleheader for Class A Tampa on Saturday. He went 0-for-2 with two walks and a strikeout in the first game and 1-for-3 with a double, an RBI and two strikeouts in the second. Giambi remains on the 15-day disabled list with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and could rejoin the Yankees as early as next week. Flocking to the park: The sellout crowd at Camden Yards for Saturday's Yankees-Orioles game played a major role in setting a Major League-wide all-time attendance record. Seventeen games drew 717,478 fans, making Saturday the most attended day in Major League history. This year's league-wide attendance is 4.4 percent higher than it was at this point last season and is on pace for a fourth consecutive year of record-breaking attendance. Quotable: "It's like being an Oscar winner. It's certainly something you have to earn. You're not going to get in there by mistake. It's quite an honor, it really is." -- Torre, on the significance of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn's induction into the Hall of Fame on Sunday Up next: The Yankees will enjoy an off-day Monday before beginning a six-game homestand against the White Sox and Royals. Mike Mussina (5-7, 4.77 ERA) will start opposite White Sox veteran and former Yankees righty Jose Contreras (5-13, 6.22 ERA) in the first contest of a three-game set on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium.
Geremy Bass is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.