NEW YORK // Shrinking the strike zone has enabled Robinson Cano, the Yankees second baseman, to grow into a monster at the plate, Kevin Long, New York's batting coach, said of the American League's first 2010 Player of the Month. What is more, he could be a threat for the Boston Red Sox, their arch-rivals who they will play in a three-game series, starting tomorrow.
Cano, who proclaimed his promise by batting a lofty .342 as a second-year player in 2006, seems determined to realise his potential after an opening month in which he hit a major league-best .400 with eight homers - a lethal combination of power and average. "He's eliminated some holes," Long said in the Yankees dugout before Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. "When you shrink the strike zone and swing at pitches on the plate you become a much better hitter."
Long, who travelled to the Dominican Republic for an off-season week of intensive work with Cano before the 2009 season, said the second baseman has also made some technical adjustments. "All those things combined have factored into that monster that we see right now," he said. Hot starts are nothing new in baseball, but when a sizzling bat is wielded by someone of Cano's calibre, experts notice. "He's maturing, getting comfortable in the big leagues," Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Fame slugger, said as he watched batting practice. "He's big and he's strong. He's got big hands. He's a great defender. He's a big-time player."
Miguel Tejada, the Orioles third baseman, said he was not surprised by the success of the 27-year-old Cano. "When Cano was a rookie I knew he was going to be like that. When I played with him in winter ball in the Dominican I saw he was a kid that would be improving and improving," Tejada said. But while Cano has made progress, the Yankees have found problems in other departments. Their World Series stalwarts Jorge Posada, the catcher, and Mariano Rivera, the closer, are still being eased back to work after injury complaints. And Javier Vazquez, their struggling starting pitcher, was told to work on his delivery instead of facing the Red Sox as originally scheduled.
Posada could be held out of the line-up tomorrow because of a strained calf, while Rivera, who complained on Monday of tightness in his left side, said he could pitch if called upon but that he would leave the decision to Joe Girardi, the manager. "I feel good," Rivera told reporters after a bullpen throwing session before Tuesday's game against the Orioles. "You're never going to feel 100 per cent."
Still, Rivera said he would like an extra day or two of rest. "It's early in the season," Rivera said. "We have to make smart decisions." Vazquez is not fighting injury but rather poor form following a stand-out season last year with the Atlanta Braves. The right-hander, who has been booed by the demanding home crowd at Yankee Stadium, is 1-3 with an unsightly 9.78 earned run average, yielding 32 hits and 15 walks in 23 innings.
After visiting Boston, the Yankees travel to Detroit to face the Tigers then return to the Bronx to play against the Minnesota Twins, the Red Sox and the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays before going cross-town to meet the Mets. * Reuters