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04/01/08 6:44 PM ET

Yankees to use Cano as No. 6 hitter

Second baseman could be long-term option in sixth spot

NEW YORK -- Late this spring, leading the team in batting average and RBIs, Robinson Cano was offered a sneak preview of the Yankees' Opening Day lineup.

Unlike many fearless order forecasts printed in national publications, it listed him sixth.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not want Cano to be surprised by his spot in the order for New York's first game of the season, but more importantly, he wanted to relay the promise that the trend could continue throughout the year.

Cano is not only serving as the Yankees' No. 6 hitter on Tuesday as the club opens the regular season -- a day late -- against the Blue Jays, but Girardi sees him sticking in that spot.

"Robbie is a great young hitter," Girardi said. "He has improved every year to me. Robbie is eventually probably going to move up more as his career goes on, if he continues to improve. It's the first step, to me."

Cano, 25, batted .306 as he made 157 starts for the Yankees last season, his third in the big leagues, overcoming an average first half before catching fire and batting .343 after the All-Star break.

Not only did Cano establish new career highs in the traditional power categories of home runs (19) and RBIs (97, leading all American League second basemen), but he also reached previously untouched levels in a cavalcade of other columns: hits, at-bats, games played, triples and walks.

The performance has sold the Yankees on the idea that Cano's career is on the upswing. Over the winter, the Yankees rewarded Cano with a four-year, $30 million contract that could be worth as much as $57 million over six years with options, a radical departure from the club's normal strategy of paying young players later for performance provided now.

Fresh off leading the Yankees with 19 Grapefruit League RBIs and a team-best .446 spring average, Cano said that he plans on being the same hitter who has helped solidify the bottom third of the Yankees' lineup, even though scouts and club personnel alike project increased power production from a lively bat that has already produced back-to-back 41-double seasons.

To Cano, the Yankees have enough thump at the top of the order that it is not imperative for him to pop the ball out of the ballpark more than he already is.

"You know, we've got [Derek] Jeter, we've got [Alex Rodriguez], we've got [Bobby] Abreu," Cano said. "Those are big guys. That's not something that I'm looking at right now. For me, it's better to be in the lineup every day. I'm not going to change anything just because I'm batting sixth."

Farewell Yankee Stadium

Girardi said that the question of how to best utilize Cano was a topic of discussion among club personnel this offseason. The Yankees' lineup is lefty-laden no matter what, but Girardi wanted to find a way to bust up the succession of left-handed bats in order to create more of a headache in opposing dugouts.

Having the switch-hitting Jorge Posada and Melky Cabrera in the No. 7 and No. 9 spots helps to achieve that somewhat.

"Right now, I'm planning on using him as our sixth hitter as we move forward," Girardi said. "It's not so much about what the other guys didn't do, it's more about what Robbie has done and who he is. I like him there, and he'll stay there for right now."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.