It’s no coincidence that Robinson Cano’s hot streak has occurred during a stretch in which the Yankees have won six of their last seven games.
Cano had just two hits in his first five games, and the Yankees went 1-4. Since then, he’s gone 14 for his last 31 with four homers and 11 RBI, and the Yankees have improved to 7-5.
“Robby got going, and we got going as a team,” Joe Girardi said. “The big three-run homer tonight ends up being the game-winning hit, but it seemed like when he started to get hot, we took off.”
Cano absolutely hammered a three-run shot in the fourth to put the Yankees up for good on their way to a 4-2 win in their interleague opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday. He’s been on fire at the plate, and as the clear-cut best hitter in the Yankees’ lineup, he seems to have lifted his entire team.
“It means a lot when you hear it from your manager,” Cano said when told of Girardi’s high praise. “You want to be a big part of the team and have them know that they can count on you.”
• Cano had come up in a similar situation in the bottom of the second with two men on, and after throwing two pitches off the plate, D-backs starter Brandon McCarthy simply decided to give him an intentional pass. In the fourth, McCarthy appeared to be pitching around him again when he started the at-bat with three straight balls, but he battled to make it a full count. In retrospect, he should have just put him on to load the bases, because Cano teed off on a 3-2 changeup and deposited it in the right field seats. He pulled it for a home run, but it’s his approach that makes him so dangerous against offspeed pitches. “He has the ability to hit the ball to all fields,” Girardi said. “Robby’s never been a guy who is strictly a pull guy, so he’s not afraid to hit the ball out the other way on a fastball – we saw him do it a couple of times in Cleveland. I think that allows him to cover a larger variety of pitches and speeds, because he doesn’t just sit fastball and say, ‘I need to pull it.’ ”
• While the guys hitting behind Cano have been productive, I can’t help but wonder if teams are going to start giving him what I like to call the “Barry Bonds treatment.” As good as Kevin Youkilis has been, I’d rather take my chances with him if I’m an opposing manager and there are a couple of ducks on the pond. McCarthy walked him in the second and now wishes that he did in the fourth, so we may see more free passes for Cano in this series. “That’s what you want,” Cano said. “(Youkilis) is a guy that can hit – a guy that has good numbers in this league, and that’s where you want to be. You want a guy like him behind you. They don’t want to pitch to you, then they’re going to face the guy behind me, and he’s able to do some damage, too.”
• Ivan Nova picked up his first win of the season and looked better than he did in his first start, but he still only made it through five innings. He seemed to get a bit stronger as the game went on, which is unusual for him dating back to last year’ all-star break, but at 94 pitches, Girardi decided not to send him back out for the sixth. “I thought he did a pretty good job (after) not pitching for 10 days,” Girardi said. “We had a little bit longer of a layoff between us leaving spring training and his first start, and then he had 10 days off for this start. I thought that he pitched the best in the fourth and the fifth, which to me is a pretty good sign. Hopefully, he’ll just continue to do that. He had to be a little rusty — there’s no doubt about it, for me — but I thought he did a nice job getting us through five tonight. He’s had two starts in about 20 days, so it hasn’t been a good rhythm, but he kind of found himself at the end.”
• Before the game, Girardi talked about wanting to see Nova limit the damage and manage situations, and he did a pretty good job of that in the third. Arizona loaded the bases with no outs, scoring two runs on a sac fly from Miguel Montero and an RBI single from Cody Ross. But with two runs across and the bases reloaded with one out, Nova buckled down to retire the next two batters and keep the Diamondbacks lead at 2-0. He went into attack-mode in that situation and came up with a strikeout and a ground ball, but talked after about needing to keep that mindset throughout the game — not just when he’s in trouble. “That’s one thing that I have to do – I have to be aggressive from the beginning,” he said. “I know sometimes my catchers get mad at me, like (Chris) Stewart does, and it’s something that I have to adjust. I’m trying to make sure that from the first pitch, I’m being aggressive.”
• Some of you may have noticed Eduardo Nunez approach Nova during that inning to offer some words of encouragement. Here’s what he said: “He said throw strikes and that he knows I can do it,” Nova said. “It’s good to have a teammate come to you in that situation.”
• While Nova didn’t give the Yankees the distance that they would have liked, he did show some swing-and-miss stuff. He finished with six strikeouts, and Girardi sounded very pleased with his curveball. I thought his two-seamer looked very sharp, and he was able to use it effectively to get some lefties to take some bad hacks. To me, the fact that his stuff was pretty sharp was the most encouraging part of this outing. “It was really good,” he said. “I threw a lot of two-seamers – some really good ones – and the changeup was good. My four-seamer was good today when I needed it, so I felt good today with all my pitches.”
• Nova sounded generally pleased with his outing and had a smile on his face after a game for the first time in awhile. “It feels really good,” he said. “I was joking with the guys; I told them that I don’t remember the last time when I won a ballgame… I’ll keep working, and hopefully this is a good sign for me.”
• With Nova coming out after the fifth, the Yankees bullpen did a great job bridging to Mariano. Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertston and Rivera combined to give the Yankees four shutout innings while allowing just one hit, no walks and striking out three. “It’s kind of funny seeing 42 face three 42s. That’s not going to happen very often,” Girardi said, referring to Rivera in the ninth. “I thought our bullpen did a tremendous job, starting with Boone getting the four hitters that he faced. Then Joba getting the two, Robby doing what he did; I thought our guys did a great job.”
• Girardi sounded very pleased with Logan, who probably had his best outing of the young season. “I thought today he had the most life that he’s had on his fastball,” he said. “I thought he had the best command that he’s had, and we’ve seen Boone throw very well, so I didn’t doubt that he would get going. He hasn’t thrown in about eight days – we’ve had him up – but I just think that he threw a couple times during that stretch, and he looked good tonight.”
• Nunez added a sac fly in the seventh for some insurance in his first game back after missing two with a bruised wrist. Youkilis had a multi-hit game, as did Travis Hafner (two doubles) and Chris Stewart. It was Stewart’s first multi-hit game since 08/09/12.
• Rivera was asked about the key to the Yankees’ winning streak, and he kept it simple. “We have to pitch,” he said. “We just have to pitch and keep it close.”
• There’s been plenty of talk about this being a contract year for Cano, and he’s off to a tremendous start. He already has four homers in 12 games, after taking 39 games to get to No. 4 last year. “I think it talks about the kind of personality that he has,” Girardi said. “I don’t think Robby worries a whole lot about it. I think Robby knows that he’s a good player, but Robby goes out and works very hard at his trade. He doesn’t take for granted that he’s a good player and understands that, you know what? The contract is going to take care of itself. That’s the bottom line. No matter what happens this year, he’s probably going to end up with a pretty good contract… I think Robby’s relaxed – he’s always played relaxed – and I think sometimes people see Robby and maybe take that a little bit the wrong way, but he likes to have fun. He loves going out there, and I think he’s enjoying himself.”
• Cano seems to really enjoy playing on Jackie Robinson Day (he hit two homers on this day in 2010), as he is, after all, named after the great Brooklyn Dodger. He said he would wear No. 42 if he could, but also said that he told Rivera that “he’s the right guy to wear 42.” He said his father told him stories about Robinson as a child, but he didn’t really understand his impact until he got to the U.S. “He told me about it, but you don’t realize until you grow,” Cano said. “You get to an age where you can understand all of the things that he went through, and if it wasn’t because of him, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
• I’ll give the final word to Cano: “We’ve got a lot confidence in our team, and you’re always going to feel good when you start winning games. The only thing you can do when you’re winning is just celebrate and keep doing it the same way. When you’re losing, you have to figure out what you’re doing wrong and sometimes you might have to make some changes.”
Associated Press photos