Cano can return to the Mariners from his suspension on Aug. 14, but Monday night he batted third and played first base in Tacoma. He showed some good defensive moves.
In his first step toward rejoining the Mariners since being suspended in mid-May, Robinson Cano began his rehab assignment Monday night at Class AAA Tacoma, where he played first base and batted in the third spot for the Rainiers for eight innings.
It was Cano’s first game at first base (besides playing some in Dominican winter ball over 15 years ago) after playing all but one inning of his major league career at second, and his defense widely impressed, as he maneuvered to make several uneasy catches, easily converted a double play, and helped pick off Sky Sox base runners attempting to steal. Offensively, he went 1 for 3 with a walk, his only hit coming in the first inning.
The Rainiers beat Colorado Springs 3-2 on a walkoff double in the 10th inning.
“I’m just happy to be back on the field,” Cano said after the game. “The past few months I’ve just been waiting for this day and happy that everything went good today and just focus on getting ready for the next five, six days.”
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Cano is set to play for the Rainiers in their 11:35 a.m. game on Tuesday, during which he is slotted to play DH. After that, he said, he will have Wednesday off before joining short-season Everett for four days and then flying to Oakland on Monday.
“I got here today — from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. was the longest day of my life,” Cano said. “I was worrying for the moment to go out and see how it was going to be for the first time playing first base.”
In his first minor-league appearance since 2006, Cano started at the plate with a single to left on a 1-2 pitch with two outs in the first. Besides drawing a walk in the bottom of the eighth, after which a pinch-runner replaced him, he also grounded out to shortstop in the third and the fifth.
“The timing feels good,” Cano said about seeing some live pitching for the first time in several months. “After my first at-bat it felt little tight, from the stretching, and moving, and throwing. … It’s so different than I’m used to.”
Cano had a strong defensive outing playing first base for the first time in his career. He turned an inning-ending double play in the fourth where he successfully collected a low throw from Rainiers third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean with a scooping grab. Later in the seventh, he had to do some more maneuvering to grab a high throw from the third baseman, but he kept his foot on the bag and got the out.
“It’s way different,” Cano said about playing at first. “You have to stretch all the time, you have to bend and stretch your legs. It’s hard. Right now, everything’s sore.”
His one mistake? In the top of the seventh, a liner bounced off his glove, and though second baseman Gordon Beckham was able to grab it and get it back to Cano to try to get the out, the runner was safe.
His defensive skills were also tested in the third, when a Sky Sox runner attempted to steal second base. Cano tagged out the runner on a 1-3-6-3 rundown before throwing home to David Freitas to try to get out the runner looking to score from third. The runner was called safe, giving the Sky Sox a 1-0 lead.
In preparation for his return to the Mariners, Cano is likely to play at various spots in the infield, as well as DH, during his rehab stint.
“Robbie will move around,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s done a lot of work at the other positions, but it’s still hard. There’s a lot of little nuances at first base and third base. I don’t think there is much he doesn’t grasp at second base.”
Cano has been asked to play at first, third, and DH — in addition to second — once he returns from his 80-game suspension to the Mariners on Aug. 14.
“It’s not an easy situation (changing positions) in the middle of the season, but it’s not about myself,” Cano said. “It’s about the team. I will do whatever and get ready down here.”
Cano became eligible to play in minor-league games on Aug. 1, as players who are suspended for violating the MLB-MLBPA drug agreement are allowed to start their rehab assignment 14 days prior to being reinstated with the team. He was suspended on May 15, two days after breaking his finger, for violating the league’s joint drug agreement.
Cano spent July taking reps at first and third at his father’s baseball facility in the Dominican Republic and returned to Seattle last week, where he did some work at first and third this weekend with Mariners infield coach Manny Acta.
The Mariners are hoping Cano — who hit .287/.385/.441 with 41 hits, 23 RBI, and four home runs in 39 games — adds a spark to their slumping offense.
“If you think we are better team without Robinson Cano in our lineup, you’re crazy. We are a better team when he’s in there,” GM Jerry Dipoto told the media on July 20.
“I always love those big situations. I’m happy because that tells you we’re playing for something,” Cano said. “I hope the guys, they won tonight, they keep winning, and when I get up there we’ll keep fighting, and I love that.”