PEORIA, Ariz. -- Robinson Cano arrived in Mariners camp Tuesday, and it didn't take long for things to heat up in his wake.
New Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon reacted strongly to comments Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long made in a New York Daily News article Sunday concerning Cano's unwillingness to run hard to first on routine ground balls, a long-standing criticism of the five-time All-Star second baseman.
"If somebody told me I was a dog, I'd have to fix that," Long told the Daily News. "When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that's your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to."
Cano brushed off the comments in a news conference following his first workout with his new team, but McClendon left little doubt as to his feelings.
"I was very disappointed," McClendon said. "I've been in this game a long time, particularly at the Major League level. And one thing I was taught, you worry about your players and getting them ready. Not players on other teams. Disappointed, surprised. I didn't know he was the spokesman for the New York Yankees. But it is what it is.
"My concern is Robinson Cano in a Seattle Mariners uniform and what he does going forward," said McClendon. "I don't [care] what he did for the Yankees. I have no concern whatsoever. We had a great talk this morning, and he's looking forward to being very productive in a Seattle Mariner uniform, being a very good teammate. And that's what's important as we move forward."
McClendon, the hitting coach for the Tigers under Jim Leyland the previous seven years, has yet to manage the Mariners in a game, but he's setting a strong tone early.
"One of the messages I'm trying to send to my players is we don't have to take a backseat to anybody," he said. "That includes the New York Yankees or anybody else. We're the Seattle Mariners. My concern is my players and the family atmosphere we build here. Anytime anybody attacks one of my players, I'm going to defend them. And if you don't like it, tough."
Cano talked at length about his excitement over joining his new team, but didn't bite when asked about Long's comments.
"I don't really pay attention to that," he said. "I just want to talk about Seattle. I'm here now. Whatever they said, I'm not going to pay attention to that."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters covering his team in Tampa, Fla., that he was surprised by Long's comments.
"I know I've been asked about Robbie," Cashman said. "I know our fans have had issues. I know you'd write something in the course of time, and in the comments section people would blow you up or whatever about it. I've spoken to it.
"Robbie was an incredible Yankee. I never had an issue with Robbie. He played every day, he played practically every inning, and he performed. I know for anybody that has addressed it with me, the answer is the same today as it was then: It's not an issue. I was surprised by what Kevin said. It surprised me."
Other than the criticism of his failure to run hard to first at times, Cano is known as a hard worker who keeps himself in excellent shape and is one of the most durable and dependable players in the Majors with 159 or more games his last seven seasons.
McClendon said he expects Cano to give "fair effort" like any of his players.
"My talk with Robbie is very simple. I expect all my players, including Robinson, to give me a fair effort down the line," McClendon said. "I'm not too far removed from playing. I'm old, but I'm not that far. I remember the days when I'd hit a pop up and I'm ticked off and you don't run to first. Is that dogging it? I don't think so.
"There's a human element that comes with this game. You roll over and hit a ground ball to second base, your head drops, you're a little disappointed. In the big scheme of things, would I rather have a guy out there for 160 games hitting .300 and driving in over 100? I'll take that.
"Don't get me wrong and my players understand. I expect a good, fair effort every time out. But my concern is to make sure I keep my players on the field."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who benched Cano briefly at the end of 2008 for what he perceived as lack of hustle, declined to get into how he dealt with that situation.
"I have discussions with all of our players about how we expect them to play the game," Girardi said. "Robbie was a guy that we ran out there every day and we expected him to be a leader and do certain things. We all know what happened in 2008 when I approached him. As far as exact discussions that I have with my players, I'm not going to divulge them."
Cashman said he understood McClendon defending his player and has no plans to talk to Long about it.
"No. It's too late," Cashman said. "Robbie was great. They got a great player. Will we miss him? Yeah, we'll miss him. Ain't a lie."
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.