PEORIA, Ariz. – The spirited applause hadn’t quite died down at Peoria Stadium when Robinson Cano gave them a reason to cheer again — with a little more enthusiasm.
In his first game of any sort with the Mariners, Cano wasted little time in making an impression on the 4,868 in attendance for Thursday’s Cactus League opener against the San Diego Padres.
Moments after receiving a loud round of applause as his name was announced for the first time as a Mariner, Cano got a first-pitch fastball from Padres starter Eric Stults and laced it back up the middle with a stinging line drive for a single. Not a bad start to his Mariners career, even it is just a spring-training game.
“He’s pretty good,” manager Lloyd McClendon said with a grin.
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One pitch, one hit, one championship?
Well, that might be getting ahead of things. But the Mariners did win, 7-1, in Cano’s debut. It was the first time he played in a major-league baseball game as part of an organization other than the Yankees.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It feels a little different. You look around and all you see is different faces. I’m here now and I had in my mind already that I’m a Mariner.”
While the faces are different, Cano still is the same high-level hitter. His swing looked in midseason form in the first at-bat.
“It was my first spring-training game,” he said. “I didn’t want to just go up and take a pitch. I wanted to see how I would feel. But maybe from now on, I will take a pitch.”
He did that in his second plate appearance in the third inning. Padres pitcher Dan Roach never threw him a strike, walking him on four straight fastballs.
“It’s the first game,” he said. “It’s where you want to find out how you feel and where you are at. It feels good. I know my swing is there, and from now I just have to be patient.”
He showed that patience in the at-bat. And plans to continue to do so.
“I know I’m not going to get a first-pitch fastball right down the middle every time,” he said. “But it’s good to be an example for the guys to not just swing at everything. This is spring training, but during the season, they might pitch me different. I’ve got to set an example for the guys, so it depends on the situation.”
Cano’s cognizance of being a good example is part of a leadership role he’s trying to embrace after signing a 10-year, $240 million contract in the offseason. It’s why he’s taken an interest in helping Justin Smoak with his swing. It’s not something he had to do on the veteran-laden, Derek Jeter-led Yankees.
“If you look back, where I was, most of the guys have been in the league eight, 10, 15 years,” he said. “They were guys that had been successful. I learned from those guys. So I would say it’s time for me to pass that along to the kids, especially a guy like Smoak.”
It appears the work Smoak has been doing with Cano and hitting coach Howard Johnson is starting to show some progress.
With Cano on first, Smoak — batting right-handed — hammered a line drive into the right-center gap, scoring Cano from first with ease.
“That was a beautiful swing, especially from the right side,” Cano said. “He kept his hands inside. If he does that during the season, you will see a difference this year.”
McClendon was also impressed.
“That was very pleasant,” he said. “That was a great at-bat. He really stayed inside the ball nice and really drove the ball to the gap. One thing we want to impress upon him that I think he has the ability to lead the league in doubles. And that’s what I want his goal to be, is to lead the league in doubles.”
Those are high hopes for Smoak. Cano knows that any step toward that goal starts in spring.
“He’s a guy we know can hit,” Cano said. “Like I talked to him, you don’t want to go through this year hitting .230 like last year. You’ve got to set your mind that starting now, you want to have a good season. I did the net drill yesterday and he’s been working with Howard Johnson, too. You can see it today.”
Besides the two at-bats, Cano got two ground balls hit his way in the first inning. He fielded them with his typical graceful ease.
“I said, ‘Oh man, welcome to spring training,’ ” he said. “But I like it. I don’t mind. You’re in the game, you’ve got to expect everything.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish