Crunch Time: Robinson Cano can bounce back from bitter 2015

Mariners

With the 2016 Major League baseball season getting closer, many Seattle Mariners fans, and perhaps players, are anticipating what will hopefully be a new start for the franchise as it enters its 40th season. After a 2015 season where the Mariners ended with a 76-86 record, a fourth-place finish in the American League West, the firing of many staff members, including former general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon, fans and critics are wondering what new GM Jerry Dipoto would bring to the table.

But while Dipoto will be under a microscope, one familiar face who hopes to erase the bitter taste of 2015 is second baseman Robinson Cano, who will be playing for the Mariners for the third year.

Cano signed a 10-year contract after nine seasons with the New York Yankees and brought with him a list of accolades that include a World Series ring, Home Run Derby title, five Silver Slugger awards and two Gold Gloves.

After the 2014 season, where he finished with a .314 batting average with 14 home runs and 82 RBIs, he suffered from gastrointestinal symptoms that were the result of an intestinal parasite. He also fractured a toe during the 2014 Major League Baseball Japan All-Star Series.

During the 2015 season Cano suffered from acid reflux, which resulted from the treatment of the parasite. He finished the season with a .287 average, 21 home runs and 79 RBIs in 156 games and was not named to the 2015 All-Star Game roster, which he played in for the last five years. After the season was over, Cano had successful surgery to repair a sports hernia.

It was during this time that fans and critics started to question his worth and he gained a lot of criticism. It wasn’t Cano’s worst season, but it was far from the stellar performances that fans were used to from the San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic native.

Every athlete seems to have bad seasons and go through some type of slump and Cano is no different. He can bounce back from last year and erase some of the criticism he’s garnered, but it’s going to take some effort on his part.

Cano is still regarded as a top player in the Major League, at least on paper. He’s ranked No. 49 in ESPN’s Baseball Tonight’s top 110, ahead of teammate Nelson Cruz, who is ranked 53.

Health could have played a factor in Cano’s performance. According to ESPN, Cano was hitting an average of .255, .298 and .331 against fastballs in the first three months of the season. After the All-Star break his average improved to .392, .445 and .671 in his final three months of the season. David Schoenfield, ESPN senior writer, noted that “older players often struggle against fastballs as their bat speed declines” and Cano’s age, which is 33, along with his health issues at the time may have prevented him from turning on pitches. Schoenfield added that Cano started to slow in 2014, hitting only four home runs in the first 77 games and ending with 14.

Cano’s strikeout (K) rate was also a career-high in 2015 at 15.9 percent. However, his K rate declined from 17.3 percent in the first half of the season to 14.1 percent in the second half.

Another question that was raised in 2015 was Cano’s work ethic and commitment to the team. Former Mariners first base coach Andy Van Slyke, in a radio interview for CBSSports 920 AM in St. Louis in November, called the second-baseman, the worst “third-place, everyday player” he’s seen and added that Cano cost Zduriencik and coaches their job.

Talking to 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Salk,” on March 4, Cano said the issue with Van Slyke may have resulted from an incident where the coach told him not to give hitting advice to shortstop Brad Miller.

Van Slyke threw Cano under the bus, but teammates have supported him. Kyle Seager and Cruz both noted Cano’s toughness in playing with a hernia and not complaining about it.

There were also rumors that Cano was unhappy and was trying to find a way back to New York. In recent interviews, Cano has been complimentary of the new coaching staff, new players and new manager Scott Servais. In spring training, Cano currently has a .314 average with three home runs and eight RBIs, as of a press time.

Now that he’s healthy and seems to be in good spirits, Cano can hopefully bring that mojo with him and translate it into big numbers for him and the Mariners during the regular season.

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