Mariners’ Cano responds to criticism from former coach

Robinson Cano brushed off criticism from his former coach. (Chris Szagola/AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. — Robinson Cano didn’t spend much time dwelling on the searing comments a former assistant coach made about him. He was home in the Dominican Republic, recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia that he played through for the final two months of last season.

The Seattle Mariners‘ six-time All-Star second baseman addressed former assistant hitting coach Andy Van Slyke’s off-season criticism of him on Thursday before the first full-squad workout of spring training.

"Honestly it didn’t hurt me. Coming from a guy like him, it doesn’t bother me at all because I know how I play," Cano said. "If you hear the comments, first he threw me under the bus and then he was like (saying) what’s so great about myself. So you didn’t know what he was trying to say. But Andy, I don’t know, it doesn’t even matter to me."

Van Slyke, in an interview with a St. Louis radio station last November, labeled Cano the worst everyday No. 3 hitter he’d ever seen in the first half of a season. He said he played the worst defence at second base that the former big leaguer had seen in 20 years. He then backtracked and complimented Cano’s throwing arm.

Van Slyke also said former Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon and hitting coach Howard Johnson were fired after the season because of Cano, who hit .238 with four home runs and 24 RBIs over the first 74 games.

"It's something as a player that you don't want to go through," Cano said.

He was much more productive after that, hitting .330 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs from July 1 on, much of that time while dealing with abdominal pain. His 179 hits led the Mariners in 2015, though his final average of .287 was the first time since 2008 he hit under .300.

Van Slyke's rant elicited an apology from the Mariners to Cano, he said, even though Van Slyke had since been let go along with the other coaches from the previous staff.

"I said I'm not going to waste my time and say anything back. I got a call from the Mariners that they were like apologizing because he said all that stuff," Cano said. "He was a guy that always talked to me. You guys saw that in the season. He says that. I don't know how come he said that everybody got fired because of me."

The Mariners have a new general manager, Jerry Dipoto, and manager, Scott Servais, along with many new faces among both staff and players. Cano said he's excited about all of the personnel changes.

"For a team to win you don't need big names, you just need the right pieces. I think that's what Jerry has done," Cano said. "I don't focus on the manager, because they know how to do their job. For me, it's more about getting to know teammates. I think Servais is going to do a great job."

As far as his return to full strength, Cano said he feels he's 98 per cent there. He expects to feel tightness some mornings when he awakens, but that's a far cry from the pain he felt during the season that he said caused him to lose sleep.

Still, he played out the season.

"I'm the kind of guy that I don't like to look for excuses, and it was a hard time for me, only my family knows that," Cano said.

Cano looked quick in getting to ground balls and, with Dipoto and Servais watching, displayed a power stroke in batting practice Thursday, hitting several home runs.

NOTES: All players on the major league spring training roster were present and ready to work out on the first full-team day of camp, Servais said. He met with a core group of players on Wednesday to get feedback and ideas from them. "It's about April 4 when the bell rings there in Texas for us. Being healthy and ready to roll and are guys in a good spot mentally," Servais said. "The message I want to get across is ... to be yourself, within the boundaries that will be defined." ... Reliever Joaquin Benoit is expected to start throwing in the next day or two, Servais said. Benoit has been dealing with hamstring and back soreness. ... Chris Taylor, beginning his bid to win a utility infielder job, took ground balls at second base, third and shortstop. He joined a group of infielders who figure to be at least part-time starters this season -- Adam Lind at first base, Cano at second, Ketel Marte at shortstop and Kyle Seager at third.