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Cano comeback key to Mariners' success

Perennial All-Star trying to find way with bat; there might be signs of better days ahead

CLEVELAND -- The most disappointing player on one of baseball's most disappointing teams is, well, disappointed. But not discouraged, not depressed and certainly not chalking up this entire 2015 Seattle Mariners season as a disaster.

Robinson Cano knows better.

"Everything that's in the past," Cano said, "is in the past. You've got to leave that in the past and go on to the next game."

So what are we to make of a player with such a satisfying past suffering so much in the present?

Is Cano trending toward becoming baseball's biggest contractual albatross, or are his troubles more attributable to a lack of luck?

Cano's slugging percentage regressed from .516 in his final season in the Bronx to .454 in his first season in Seattle. But this year, at .325, it has downright disappeared.

When he ripped two doubles on Tuesday night at Progressive Field, Cano ended a 20-game drought without a two-bagger. This from a guy who used to routinely hit 40 doubles in a season. And in the home run tally, Cano is being lapped by none other than Stephen Drew. (The count is 9-2, if you're scoring at home.)

Look, 32-year-old second basemen don't typically improve upon their career norms, but, as far as the most in-your-face numbers are concerned, Cano has looked like a guy going off a cliff -- and in just the second season of a 10-year, $240 million contract, no less. His .604 OPS is among the 20 worst by Major League regulars.

You don't put the weight of a 25-man roster on one man's shoulders, but it's really, really difficult to imagine the Mariners making a surge up the American League West standings without a productive Cano.

In other words, the pressure's on. And Cano's season, to date, has been one of baseball's strangest sights.

"It's like Michael Jordan not being able to hit a jump shot," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Is there a little bit of embarrassment? Probably so. Frustration? Probably. But as I pointed out to Robby, the same things that got you to this elite level are the same things that are going to get you out of it. And that's in here."

McClendon was pointing to his heart, but the Mariners believe Cano's problems have to do more with his mechanics than his desire.

That encouraging evening against the Indians came after an extensive early batting-practice session, so maybe Cano has figured out some things, water will find its level and the long-staggering Mariners lineup, which now features Mark Trumbo in its home-run-reliant alignment, will get going.

"When you look at his full body of work over the course of a 162-game schedule," McClendon said of Cano, "the numbers are probably going to be where they're supposed to be."

Only time will tell.

Already, though, we have some data to suggest that Cano's numbers aren't quite as bad as they initially appear.

Going back to the beginning of May, Cano has an average exit velocity on batted balls of 92.63 mph, according to PITCHf/x data. That is in the top 20 in all the Majors in that span and a mark very much in line with those of Paul Goldschmidt (92.84) and Mike Trout (92.73).

Inside Edge has additional interesting data on Cano's tough luck: He has a .169 well-hit average that is better than the .144 league mark, but 63.6 percent of his well-struck balls have gone right to fielders for certain or likely outs, and he's been robbed four times by good defensive plays on balls that had at least an even chance of being hits.

So it's not as if Cano's bat speed and ability to drive the ball has completely abandoned him. Though his issues aren't totally a product of bad luck, he's hit into more than his share of hard outs.

"You know," Cano said, "you can hit the ball, but you can't guide the ball."

A productive Cano can guide this lineup. Until then this is a club on pace to score more than 70 fewer runs than it did last season, despite the addition of Nelson Cruz. Amazing.

That Cruz has cooled off considerably after his season-opening surge only doubles down on the difficulty of what Seattle is trying to accomplish. But the Mariners entered this month with the highest hard-hit percentage and the sixth-lowest batting average on balls in play in the big leagues, so their lineup might be due for some better fortune. The bats did finally break out in Wednesday night's 9-3 win, scoring more than three runs in a game for the first time in two weeks, and Logan Morrison and Austin Jackson have provided traction atop the lineup of late.

Cano, though, is the key to the whole thing. And right now he's Jordan sans jumper, but with some hard hits offering hope.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.
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