Cano enjoying hot start in cold temperatures

April 8th, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS -- As packed his bags and awaited the Mariners' flight out of frigid Minnesota on Sunday, he wasn't sorry to leave behind the coldest conditions he can remember in his 14-year Major League career.

"It's not baseball weather right now," Cano said after Sunday's series finale was postponed due to freezing temperatures and an impending snow. "The past few days have been crazy. I can't wait for it to warm up."

But the eight-time All-Star hasn't let the chilly temperatures cool off a hot start to his fifth season with Seattle.

While much of the Mariners' early attention has gone to strong early impressions by new teammate Dee Gordon, the up-and-coming Mitch Haniger and even spring sensation , Cano has quietly burst out of the gates by hitting .440 with a .517 on-base percentage (11-for-25 with four walks and eight runs scored) through Seattle's first seven games.

The batting average and on-base percentage are not only tops in the American League, they're career bests for Cano in the first seven games of a season in his career.

Talk all you want about small sample sizes, Cano loves getting off to a strong start. Don't kid yourself into thinking established stars don't worry about looking at the early numbers and seeing a bunch of zeros staring back at them.

"When you start well, I'll say this," Cano said. "You don't have to worry about how it's going to be the next month or trying to rush yourself trying to get three hits today or this many hits in this month so I can get back on track. And what happens if you never get hot?"

Cano has hit safely in each of Seattle's games this season as the Mariners have gotten off to a 4-3 start despite losing , Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel and now to injuries. They've done so by getting tremendous production from the top of the lineup, where Gordon and have provided a nifty one-two threat in front of Cano.

And, yes, the speed threat of that duo ahead of Cano is being noticed, as he said pitchers have to throw more fastballs when the speedsters are on base creating distractions.

"Having Dee Gordon is making a huge difference in our team," Cano said.

Gordon has been getting on regularly, batting .367 with three stolen bases. Segura, bumped down to the No. 2 spot below Gordon, has also gotten off to a fast start at .379 and Cano loves the potential.

"I said this last year and some of my friends told me I was crazy," Cano said. "But for me, Segura is not a leadoff hitter because he's a guy that uses the whole field. He's a guy that already maybe five times he's hit the ball and Gordon has ended up at third. He's the guy that can hit home runs, hit them in the gap, get singles, bunt. There's a lot of things he does that change a game."

And not coincidentally, Cano has been using the whole field himself this year after getting pull-happy last season. Manager Scott Servais said a lengthy home run drought in 2017 got Cano into a bad habit of trying to pull everything to right field. But he's driving the ball with authority the other way this year, racking up three doubles already and getting on base at a lofty clip.

"Last year I was hooking everything," Cano said. "I went home and focused on going back to myself, the guy that when I came up was using the whole field. That's what I'm doing right now. Sometimes those pitches inside, you're trying to pull and you just hit ground balls.

"But when you're trying to use the whole field and they throw you inside and you're late, but it's like the first day I got a blooper on one of those. You're just using the whole field and keeping more level instead of turning your shoulder in or your leg and your swing is too long. For me, it keeps my swing short."

Even with Cruz sidelined the past five days with a sprained ankle, Cano and the top of the order continue to carry the Mariners through their early injury challenges. The first four batters in the lineup have combined to hit .351 with 23 runs, six doubles, four homers and 17 RBIs in seven games.

The rest of the lineup is batting a combined .213 with nine runs, seven doubles, three homers and 14 RBIs, which is where missing Zunino, Gamel and now Healy hurts the depth.

"I like what I see here," Cano said. "I love what I see. We have a great chemistry, a great group of guys. We're playing good and we don't have Nelly or Zunino. When we get those guys back, it's going to be a different scenario."

Especially if Cano stays hot, even through a cool April.