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Cano seeking to build on 2009 effort

Cano seeking to build on 2009 effort

TAMPA, Fla. -- Most of the laughs Robinson Cano shares with Melky Cabrera this season will have to come over the telephone, which isn't exactly an ideal situation. But he isn't about to let that stand in the way of chasing his best all-around season to date.

Coming off a strong 2009 campaign in which he put up impressive offensive numbers and earned consideration as a Gold Glove Award-caliber second baseman, Cano said he worked out five days a week during the winter and is ready to get back at it -- with or without his good friend along for the ride.

"I was sad. I'm not going to lie, because he was my buddy," Cano said. "We were hanging out all the time. We go to dinner together -- we're always around. It's like I told him, 'Just go there, keep your head up and keep playing the game hard.' You never know what's going to happen. He might be back -- who knows?"

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Cabrera was a main chip in the five-player December trade that netted pitchers Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan from the Braves. The deal gave the Yankees needed pitching depth, while Cabrera has started to sprout some facial hair and will be challenging for a starting role in Atlanta's outfield mix.

"I spoke to him right after [the trade]," Cano said. "He was OK. He didn't want to be traded, but he said there was nothing he could do."

Now, the Yankees look to Cano wondering what he can do -- as in, will he be able to take the next step and move up in the order?

The idea has been floated, and while manager Joe Girardi has three weeks of exhibition games to consider before making what he hopes will be a consistent lineup, there are those who think the 27-year-old Cano may be ready for bigger things.

After batting .320 with a team-high 48 doubles, plus 25 home runs and 85 RBIs last year, Cano could be as likely a candidate as any to help pick up some of the slack created by the departures of Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

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"I don't see that as pressure," Cano said. "I put out of my mind that I had a great year. I want to keep improving and get better in every aspect. I know that they're gone, but I know we got some other guys. I don't want to put pressure on myself. I'm going to keep going out there and playing the game the same way that I play the game every year."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he thought Cano "came out with something to prove" after a rough 2008 in which he was benched late in the year due to a lack of hustle. He worked hard with infield coach Mick Kelleher and the Yankees were largely pleased by Cano's defense.

"You talk about plays to the right, and I don't know if I've ever seen anyone make them better," Girardi said. "I really don't. His ability to throw the ball on the money when he's not looking ... I find it hard to believe that anybody played better than he did."

Cano said that he wants "to get better in every aspect," and one main objective is improving with runners in scoring position. Cano hit just .207 (38-for-184) in those situations in 2009, but batted at a blistering .376 (129-for-343) clip with no one on base.

Girardi said that a lot of Cano's troubles were due to simple bad luck -- "He hit a lot of balls hard," Girardi said -- but Cano believes that he can improve his performance in those clutch situations.

"I would say that's one of the things that I have to work on," Cano said. "I'm an aggressive hitter, but I leave men on base. I've got to be more patient and swing at balls that I can drive."

Bombers bits: The Yankees plan to use both Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson in left field and center field when Grapefruit League games begin on Wednesday, looking to evaluate comfort levels. They do not anticipate a scenario where Granderson would not be in center field when Gardner is not playing. ... Girardi said that outfielder Jamie Hoffmann's Rule 5 Draft status will not affect his chances to make the team. "Maybe in some other camps, it might work one way or another, but here we're going to take what we feel gives us the best team," he said. ... CC Sabathia will pitch a batting-practice session against Yankees hitters on Saturday. ... The Yankees will have a team outing on Tuesday, similar to last year's billiards tournament.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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