Robinson Cano batted second in Game Two of the ALCS against Detroit and went 0-for-4. The afternoon he spent hitting behind Ichiro Suzuki resulted in four ground outs and just one opportunity to drive a run in besides hitting a solo home run.
For the Yankees’ first win of the season, that’s where Joe Girardi placed Cano. Instead of Ichiro ahead of him it was Brett Gardner, who can get on base but sometimes has trouble staying on base.
To read the quotes from Girardi before the game, he said it was more about breaking up lefties, which you know he likes to do when he can, especially in the middle of the order. So instead of Cano hitting ahead of Travis Hafner, he was two spots ahead with Kevin Youkillis placed in Cano’s customary third spot.
The Yankees won and that didn’t draw much attention. And then for today’s game in Detroit, Cano was there again. It marked the first time he started consecutive games in that spot since going 2-for-8 at Toronto on Sept 24-25, 2008.
Cano’s last productive regular-season game batting second was May 21, 2009 when he had three hits, including a two-run home run against Baltimore. Last night, he was hitless in three at-bats and drew a walk and here’s how it went in terms of how the Red Sox pitched to him.
In the first at-bat, Ryan Dempster started with three straight fastballs and got behind 2-1. After missing with a split-fingered fastball, Dempster got Cano to chase a fastball that nicked the outer edge of the plate. The at-bat ended with a slider being grounded to third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who was playing the shift due to Cano’s tendency to hit the ball to the right side.
In the second appearance, which followed a solo home run by Gardner, Dempster threw him basically the same sequence but this time could not get Cano to chase and it resulted in a walk.
Ideally his third appearance would have been with two outs in the fourth inning with two runners on but Gardner struck out. That meant Cano led off. He saw a first-pitch split-fingered fastball and grounded it out to first base.
The last appearance occurred in a situation that the Yankees were hoping for with Gardner on base. However against Clayton Mortensen, it ended in three pitches. The first two he looked at a slider and watched a changeup go well out of the strike zone. On the third pitch, Cano saw a changeup that was almost outside and grounded out to Middlebrooks.
So, the Red Sox used three different pitches to get to Cano and Doug Fister used a non-fastball to get him out in the first inning. It was Cano’s fourth groundout in as many at-bat out of that spot and it came against a changeup.
Cano’s second at-bat in Detroit came with Gardner on first base after a curveball hit the back foot of Gardner. The sequence opened with a changeup for ball one followed by a fastball for strike one. After Cano got ahead 2-1 by not chasing a slider, he sort of reached for a fastball and hit into a double play.
It also means that starting pitchers aren’t likely to throw many regular fastballs to Cano. Jon Lester threw 12 pitches to Cano on Monday and only one was a fastball.
Andrew Miller threw six pitches to Cano and the last five were fastballs, resulting in a swinging strikeout.
On Wednesday, it was more of the same approach by Clay Buchholz and Andrew Miller.
Cano saw eight pitches from Buchholz with three being cutters, two being curveballs and three being fastballs.
That approach may have made Cano become accustomed to non-fastballs and looking for them but when he faced Miller again, he got three fastballs and one slider as the at-bat ended with a groundout.
Also possibly factoring in the move is to possibly get the 9-1-2 hitters going. Those hitters are 5-for-31 through three games and the idea is to have one or two on base for someone with prolific RBI abilities as Cano.
Is it a move that will last or is it an example of trial and error for a lineup that scored 10 runs in its first 26 innings?
So far it has not worked, but then again little has worked so far with the Yankee offense.