PEORIA, Ariz. – This isn’t a news conference, a photo op or a ceremony. When Robinson Cano slides on his Mariners’ uniform on Tuesday it will be for a real workout in preparation for the 2014 season.
The Mariners will take to the field for their first full-squad workout and Cano — the biggest free-agent signing in club history — will be in that organized chaos. Even with the mass of players, all eyes will be focused on Cano. The all-star second baseman eschewed the New York Yankees, opting to sign a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners.
For the Mariners, there hasn’t been a more anticipated spring-training workout debut since they signed Ichiro in 2001. But this isn’t curiosity, it’s cache. Cano was the best player on the market and is one of the best hitters in baseball. There will be a fairly large media contingent, including more than a few reporters from New York in attendance. Enough that the Mariners will have an informal news conference after the workout for Cano.
Beyond the niceties and preliminary information, Cano will certainly be asked about comments from his former hitting coach with the Yankees. In a column in The New York Daily News, Kevin Long leveled criticism about Cano not running out ground ball outs.
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“If somebody told me I was a dog,’’ Long told The Daily News, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.’’
It was a growing complaint from Yankees fans. Yankees coaches often privately complained to local media about Cano.
Long made his thoughts very public.
“We all talked to him,’’ Long said. “I’m pretty sure (Derek) Jeter talked to him a number of times. Even if you run at 80 percent, no one’s going to say anything. But when you jog down the line, even if it doesn’t come into play 98 percent of the time, it creates a perception.
“It’s too bad because Robbie cared a lot. By his last year here he was becoming a leader in the clubhouse. He went out of his way to talk to some of the younger guys, and he helped them.
“But he just wouldn’t make that choice to run hard all the time. The reasons aren’t going to make sense. He might say his legs didn’t feel good, or he was playing every day and needed to save his energy. To me there was no acceptable answer.’’
Manager Lloyd McClendon has heard the criticism before.
“I played with a guy in New York by the name of Darryl Strawberry, who was like that,” he said. “A lot of people said he’s not hustling, he’s not busting his ass. But he was very graceful. For those of us where the game came hard, it looked like he wasn’t giving much effort. But he was a very elegant player and I think Robbie is a lot like that as well.”
It’s not often Felix Hernandez gets overshadowed in a Mariners uniform, particularly when it comes to throwing bullpen sessions. But with both he and Taijuan Walker throwing their first bullpen sessions this spring, most of the focus was on the Mariners’ young pitching phenom, who had been bothered by shoulder soreness in the first few days of camp, sending fans into a panic.
Walker threw 25 pitches — all fastballs — and had no issues.
“It felt great,” he said. “I’ve got another one Thursday. It felt good to be back on the mound — finally. We got that first bullpen out of the way and it’s time to move forward.”
It will be a careful pace.
“He was throwing 90, 95 percent, not 100 percent,” pitching coach Rick Waits said. “We don’t need that yet. … The main thing is, I don’t want to put a date on anything, we’re just going to go through the process and get him ready.”
Meanwhile, Hernandez quietly threw his 35 pitches, throwing his fastball, curveball and change-up, but staying away from his slider.
“Too early for that,” he said.
How did he feel?
“Not bad,” he said. “It was good. The beginning I was little wild. The ball was up. At the end, the ball was coming out pretty good.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish