Robinson Cano is a frequent participant in hitting coach Kevin Long’s net drill during early batting practice. The drill consists of placing protective hitting screens over half of home plate and the batter faces underhand pitching with the idea of shortening swings to improve power.
Cano was at it yesterday at approximately 3:30 p.m., three and a half hours before he took a .255 batting average into Wednesday night’s game with the Orioles. Cano’s batting average is his second-lowest through this point in any season.
The lowest was the .155 clip he held through May 8, 2008 in a year that he finished hitting .271. In the following three years, Cano held averages of .378, .382 and .320 through May 1.
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Cano has had 94 at-bats and roughly an equal distribution from the third and fourth spot. He is 12-for-50 as a third-place hitter and 12-for-44 as the cleanup hitter.
In a way, his shockingly low numbers are generating the kind of dissection and analysis that Mariano Rivera occasionally gets after blowing a save or going through a few difficult showings.
“We’re all looking for reasons and what is it and I think sometimes we all want to take the human element out of it,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The other guys are actually getting paid to get him out believe it or not.”
Cano is being pitched virtually the same. The only small difference is his groundball rate has increased from 47 percent to 53 percent and his fly bat rate has decreased from 31 to 26 percent.
So far Cano has seen 350 pitches in his 103 plate appearances and Girardi seemed to think it was just a matter of missing pitches.
“I just think he’s missing his pitch,” Girardi said. “He’s just a tick off. It doesn’t take much to off, it really doesn’t. The timing has to be perfect and you have to swing at good pitches. I haven’t seen him chase. It’s not like I’ve seen him be overaggressive in a sense.
Phelps and friends
When David Phelps takes the mound in Kansas City, Thursday he will be pitching in front of friends and family or as he puts it, “pretty much anybody who has been a part of my life.”
Phelps is from the St. Louis suburbs and attended Hazelwood West High School in Hazelwood, Mo. before going to Notre Dame and now is making the spot start in place of Freddy Garcia.
“Anytime you get put in a situation to start on this team, you’re in good company,” he said. “It’s not something I take lightly.
Phelps has averaged 45 pitches and thrown a maximum of 78 pitches in his six relief outings. Girardi indicated that he will throw somewhere between 75 to 90 pitches.
“He’s been thrust into a role that he’s never done before,” Girardi said. “It has not been an easy situation but he has done OK. So he’s got that nervousness part of it out. Managing some of the other things that can be difficult, so hopefully he can get in this little area and spend a little time and focus on what’s he’s going to do.
Injured outfielders update
Brett Gardner was hoping to be activated from the disabled list Thursday, but the Yankees have decided to give him Wednesday and Thursday off before resuming his work. Girardi said that Gardner is expected to resume working Friday in Kansas City.
As for Nick Swisher, Girardi said that he is feeling fine, but has not done any running or swinging. Swisher still remains on target to return next week from a hamstring injury.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.