07/24/08 12:29 PM ET
Cano surges out of All-Star break
Second baseman living up to career second-half success
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The month of July had started well for Cano, perennially a strong second-half hitter, but he limped into the break carrying a 1-for-17 skid. The day after the All-Star Game, Cano and his father, Jose, found a nearby field at home in the Dominican Republic, acting out game situations with Jose -- a former Major League pitcher -- throwing half the distance from the mound.
Cano estimated that he swung at about 90 to 100 pitches, but the quantity was not nearly as important as the quality. Since Cano has returned to the Yankees, he has cut down on lunging and jumping at the ball, improving his approach markedly as he embarks on a post-All-Star break surge. Credit this one to dad.
"He was laughing," Cano said of his father. "I called him and he said, 'Oh, it's working now. Any time you get a break, you're going to have to come here and we're going to have to practice.'"
The Yankees have swept two consecutive series to open their second half, wiping clear both the A's and Twins to run their record a season-high 11 games over .500, and Cano has played a major part heading into this weekend's all-important series at Fenway Park.
Becoming just the second Major Leaguer since 1938 to have six straight multi-hit games in victories coming out of the All-Star break -- the Reds' Wally Berger was the other -- Cano's improved consistency has helped balance out a Yankees lineup that is coping with the absences of both Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui.
"It makes us much stronger as a club," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "He's not just a good hitter, he's a run producer as well. He gets big hits in big situations, and he's not a guy that only hits right-handers. When this kid is right, he hits everybody. He is a big part of our offense, and we need him."
Settling into the familiar No. 6 hole, Cano has raised his average to .265 -- still a far cry from the .314 career average he carried into the season, but on the path to respectability. In the six games since the session in the Dominican Republic, Cano is 14-for-27 (.519) with two home runs and seven RBIs.
"Everybody knows that kid can hit," said Yankees right fielder Bobby Abreu. "He was struggling the first half, but he started to break it down. Things are going well for him and I'm happy for him. He was being such a tough guy earlier in the season and he's helping the team a lot now."
"He's staying up the middle and he's having some good at-bats," Derek Jeter adds. "When he gets hot, he's as good as anyone."
Cano said that his original intent was to go home and forget about baseball for a few days. The Yankees had finished the first half with a rough series at Toronto, losing two out of the three games, and Cano was not a consideration to be selected among the All-Stars representing the Yankees. Chatting with his father helped calm some nerves.
"It was great," Cano said. "We had a talk about baseball. It was fun to get back and talk to him and try to get my confidence back."
Jose spent most of his career on the other side of the ball, having pitched in six games for the 1989 Astros, but he could help impart hitting logic as well. They broke down Cano's plate demeanor, helping Robinson stay more behind the ball and expressing confidence that if all checkpoints were hit, the results would begin to turn around.
"Things have started falling," Cano said. "When you get hits, you feel more confident. I feel much better."
On Saturday, perhaps no one was more thrilled with Cano's resurgence than Justin Christian, a rookie outfielder enjoying his first tastes of duty in the big leagues. The Yankees trailed the A's, 3-2, when Christian was called on to pinch-run for Jason Giambi in the ninth inning.
Representing the tying run, Christian had a terrific break off of A's closer Huston Street but slipped and fell halfway to second base, tagged out in an embarrassing rally-killing mishap. Cano kept the game alive with a two-out double and then scored on a Wilson Betemit single, helping to send the game to extra innings and an eventual 4-3 Yankees victory.
After that four-hit game against Oakland, Cano noted an increasing level of confidence, saying, "I've been swinging great. Every time I hit it, I hit it hard."
Girardi joked that, next year, he would tell Cano -- a career .340 hitter after the break -- that the second half begins in April. He struck a more serious chord when he said that going home probably played a major part.
"When you get a few days off, you can step back and just think about what you're doing," Girardi said. "When you play every day, it comes quickly. Sometimes your mind speeds up. I think the break helped him get strong again."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.