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Mariners notebook: Jack Zduriencik says Robinson Cano’s struggles aren’t for lack of effort

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said struggling Robinson Cano may be trying to do too much. (AP)
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The Mariners are still trying to figure things out, as is their star, second baseman Robinson Cano.

After Thursday’s lifeless 7-0 loss to the Giants, the Mariners fell to 30-37, though Cano didn’t have a part in the defeat – he was out with lower back stiffness. He will return to the lineup Friday, though, hoping to start climbing out of the season-long slump that sees the six-time All-Star hitting .237 with just two home runs and 20 RBIs through 64 games played.

If there’s one person who should be worried about Cano’s performance besides Cano himself, it’s the man who signed him, general manager Jack Zduriencik. He joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Danny, Dave and Moore” on Friday afternoon and delved into his star’s dreadful season thus far.

“Robinson’s a gifted player, a very talented kid, got a great swing, he’s gifted defensively. For some reason it hasn’t kinda gotten on the right stride for him yet,” Zduriencik said. “He and I had a talk about a month ago, and I said to him ‘Just be who you are.’ If the Robinson Cano hitting third in this lineup is the Robinson Cano that his track record brought him here and that he was last year, then this club’s going to be fine.”

That Robinson Cano hasn’t been present, though. Instead he’s struggled both at the plate and on the base paths, where he’s raised the ire of the fan base not once but three times with mental mistakes. The last occurred Wednesday, when he was picked off second base trying to steal third with two outs in a 2-0 game by Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner.

“I think in Robinson’s case, sometimes you try to do too much. I think like the incident the other day on the base paths, that was an error in judgment on his part. I don’t think it was an error in effort,” Zduriencik said. “There’s nobody that feels worse when those instances happen than Robinson Cano … Those are critical mistakes, but I guarantee you he felt as bad as anybody when he walks in that dugout and looks at his teammates, knowing who he is.”

Despite his poor numbers, Zduriencik said Cano doesn’t seem to be losing a step at age 32, but rather is dealing with a combination of bad luck and pressing.

“The first game in San Francisco (on Monday) he hit five balls on the nose – he had two hits. He had five line drives. We do our metrics – Robinson Cano is hitting the baseball harder than he did a year ago. The velocity of the ball coming off the bat has increased from what it was a year ago, when he was pretty good. Some of it unfortunately is bad luck. Some of it is Robinson Cano maybe at times expanding the strike zone, trying to do too much.

“Eventually he’ll get back to who he is … He’s going through a stretch right now which he doesn’t want to be in and we don’t want him in, but you’ve gotta play through it.”

Cano’s issues are a lot like the Mariners’ as a whole. He has a resume that puts him in the upper echelon of players in the MLB, yet his numbers this season don’t reflect that. Similarly, the Mariners came into the season expected to be one of the best teams in baseball but have yet to find their groove.

“It’s disappointing. I’d be foolish to say it isn’t,” Zduriencik said of the Mariners’ performance up to this point. “I think all the expectations and our level of performance should be better … It’s a little mystifying – I mean, that’s a good word to use. On paper we’re a better club than what we are, what we’re playing, and we should be better than this.”

Notes

• The lineup for Friday’s game can be found here. Both Cano and Kyle Seager, who missed yesterday’s game with food poisoning, are in the lineup. Nelson Cruz, who was also under the weather Thursday but played, is the DH for the second day in a row.

“Not sure if they’re all at full strength, but they’re back in there,” manager Lloyd McClendon said of the trio.

• Hisashi Iwakuma (lat) will throw three or four innings and 40-45 pitches in his first rehab start with the Class-A Everett AquaSox on Saturday, McClendon said.