Cano played first base and batted in the No. 2 spot for Tuesday's game at Oakland. He picked up a single in the third inning.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Robinson Cano didn’t pause from his answer when he saw the familiar faces walk into the cramped room of the Oakland Coliseum. But when he finished, he broke into that wide familiar grin.
All of the Mariners’ position players had assembled behind the media there for Cano’s pregame press conference on the day he was reinstated from an 80-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s joint drug testing policy. The sound of large humans moving in a pack and some of them taking seats in old folding chairs interrupted the quiet of the room as Cano spoke.
Why were they there?
“We there to show we support him,” said designated hitter and longtime friend Nelson Cruz. “That’s what you do for teammates.”
Any discussion from baseball pundits and fans that somehow Cano might disrupt the clubhouse chemistry was nonsense to them.
“Of course we are going to support him,” said shortstop Jena Segura. “He’s our teammate and our friend. People outside of the clubhouse don’t know. They just think they know.”
Asked about the group of players watching, Cano looked at them before answering.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Thank you guys. It means a lot to me to see the way that teammates support you. I really appreciate it. I didn’t expect this. Thank you guys.”
The Mariners were battling for the postseason in his absence, something that wasn’t lost on him.
“I have to give them a lot of credit,” he said. “ They played so great. My goal from Day 1 — I was working and preparing myself to be ready when I get back and be able to contribute and to help this team win. The goal is the same. We were all on the same page since the beginning of spring training. We all want to make it to the playoffs. I know I’m not going to be able to play but I want to help this team make the playoffs.”
Cano’s first game back was an eventful one. He was immediately inserted into the starting lineup at first base and was batting second. Cano went 1 for 4 with a single.
This night would be his first professional game at first base, while he was batting in a spot other than his customary No. 3 spot in the order. And none of that mattered to him because he was just happy to return from baseball purgatory.
“It’s good with me,” he said. “It’s not about myself. It’s about the team. It’s about helping the team to win games and helping the team to make the playoffs. Like I said earlier, I will go out earlier and do my best at wherever they need me. I will be ready for it.”
Cano will need to be ready for anything because there is no set plan for how to use him. Manager Scott Servais, who has tired of talking about Cano’s possible usage, reiterated that again before Tuesday’s game.
“I had a chance to sit down with Robbie earlier in the day and kind of talk through some things with him, and what the plan is going forward,” he said. “Again, nothing is set in stone here. Just trying to give him a heads up. I think that’s what players appreciate. They just kind of want to know what the direction is and how he’s going to be used, where he’s going to hit in the lineup, things like that. Like I said all along, he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him.”
As part of Cano’s return, Dee Gordon, who has been starting at second in his place, will also return to playing some games in center field.
“Wait and see,” Servais said. “Nothing is set in stone, guys. I know everybody wants to hear that, because what you’re going to do is hold me to it. I don’t know. Have to wait and see how it plays out. It would be ridiculous. Someone fouls a ball off their foot and they’re out for two day and it’s ‘well, you said he was going to play here.’ We’re not doing that. We’ll take it probably a series at a time, look at the pitching matchups, seeing where guys are at physically, who needs a day off, all that will play into it.”
First baseman Ryon Healy was the first of the regular starters to lose playing time to Cano. He stands to lose the most in Cano’s return, but Gordon, Kyle Seager and possibly Cameron Maybin could all be affected. How does Servais plan to manage that aspect?
“Be real open and honest like I have been,” he said. “I’ve talked to all the guys, had a group meeting about it, let them talk, listen to their comments and their feelings and where they’re at with this thing. At the end of the day, it’s a common theme here: We just want to win. We want to take this organization to the playoffs, hasn’t been there in a long time, everybody understands. They’re all willing to sacrifice a little bit and that’s what it ultimately takes. Whether it’s a day off here, which may make you stronger in mid-September or whatever, they’re willing to trust. That says a lot.”
Cano never seems to let much bother him and shrugged off the difficulties of playing first base.
“I don’t want to say difficult,” he said. “I just want to say that I’m not used to it. If I say that something is going to be difficult, I’m just putting pressure on myself. I’m going to go out there and have fun, enjoy the game and be happy to be back.”
Cano was loudly booed in his first at-bat of the game by the sparse A’s crowd. He knew it was coming.
“Last thing I want is to focus on the fans and if they say anything,” he said. “I just want to focus on the team and help the team. I’ve been through this before. The All-Star Game in Kansas City and when I went back to New York. To be honest, it’s not going to bother me. They can say what they want and they have the right to say whatever they want. It’s on me not to focus on them and let my mind get away from the game. I’m just going to go out and focus on my team and helping the win the game and not focus on what people are going to say about it. There’s always people that are going to boo you or say something bad. It is what it is.”