Cano credits health for offensive turnaround

Cano credits health for offensive turnaround

HOUSTON -- For Robinson Cano, the home runs have been coming since the start of the season and they haven't slowed. The seven-time All-Star second baseman is at a career-best 35 and counting after two more homers in Monday's 4-3 win over the Astros.

And Cano continued his one-man assault on Houston in Tuesday's 8-4 loss, as he doubled twice in four at-bats and scored Seattle's first run. Cano is 19-for-37 (.514) with six homers and 11 RBIs in nine games at Minute Maid Park this season and 26-for-72 (.361) with eight homers and 22 RBIs in 18 games overall against Houston going into Wednesday's final meeting of 2016, which now looms large with both teams clinging to Wild Card hopes.

"We just have to stay positive," Cano said. "Erase what happened tonight and come out tomorrow with the same energy and believe we still have a chance. A lot of things can happen in five games."

Cano says his healthy improvement from last year's .287/.334/.446 line against the Astros is exactly why he's been able to stay strong throughout this year -- he's healthy.

Not 100 percent, of course, as the grind of the 162-game season leads to the 33-year-old being wrapped in ice at various areas on his body after every game. But Cano has missed just one game this year -- given a day to rest on Aug. 7 -- and is a different player than the one who struggled down the stretch last season while dealing with a double hernia.

Asked what reaching a new high in homers meant to him this year, his first thought was the work he put in last winter after October surgery in Philadelphia to deal with the hernias.

"It means a lot because I had that surgery and didn't have any rest [after last season]," he said. "You have to exercise every single day to get stronger and have in your mind how you're going to do or feel the next year.

"Thank God I was able to stay in Philly for like six weeks and work with their trainer and be able to get strong and be able to go through the season and be able to use my hip again."

Not everything has gone perfectly this season, of course. Cano hit a rough patch at the plate in the first two weeks of September when he batted just .149 with one homer and one RBI over a 12-game stretch.

But he studied film, started letting the ball travel deeper and worked his way out of that slump in an efficient manner. After a couple games of driving singles to all fields, he started turning on the ball better and laced a pair of homers on Monday.

Manager Scott Servais said Cano has relaxed and started letting the game come to him again.

"It certainly looks so," Servais said. "All players, and we've seen it with a few of our guys, it's human nature. They all set goals. They all want to achieve their goals and they get to a certain point of the season where they're right there and they can almost touch them. And you start chasing a little bit.

"I think the fact we're in these games that mean something, it's just about winning the game and just playing the game and having good at-bats and Robbie has certainly done that recently."

The Mariners need that, with third baseman Kyle Seager also dealing with a recent slump and Nelson Cruz playing through a sore left wrist.

"I think Seager is starting to come out of it," Servais said. "He was in a little funk there, but looked much better last night. We certainly need him. Cruz has been probably our most-consistent guy all season. We certainly have to have those guys in the middle of our lineup. Those are the guys that drive the train at this time of year."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.