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Thursday, February 28, 2013
First Pitch: Robbie Cano, as in 'no days off'

By Wallace Matthews

TAMPA, Fla. -- Robinson Cano missed one game all of last season.

He missed two in 2010, played all but one in 2009. In 2011, he slacked off and played in only 159 games.

In fact, over the past six seasons, Cano could have played in a grand total of 972 games. He "only" played in 960 of them. That is an average of 160 games a year, every year. And that's not counting preseason games, postseason games, and this spring, WBC games.

Well, this year, he might have to play more than that.

Because with the Yankee lineup having lost Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, a half-season at least of Alex Rodriguez and a solid five weeks of Curtis Granderson, if you take Robbie Cano out of the lineup, there really isn't a whole lot left.

As if the pressure of playing for a new contract wasn't enough, Cano will bear the added burden of pretty much having to provide the bomb in the team formerly known as the Bronx Bombers.

"I don’t want to put myself in a situation that I have to do more than what I’m capable of," Cano said. "I just have to go out there and play the game. We got guys here who can step it up."

But the Yankees have no one like Cano, and really, no one who can protect Cano in their lineup. Unless Mark Teixeira gets off to an uncharacteristic great start, or Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis have more left in their tanks than they've shown recently, Cano's bat will be the only truly dangerous bat in the Yankees lineup. They've already lost more than 100 home runs to attrition and haven't even come close to replacing them. It's easy to look at the team the Yankees are likely to send out and wonder exactly where the runs will come from this year.

"There's a lot of guys here who have power," he said, mentioning Hafner and Youkilis and Matt Diaz and even Dan Johnson, who has the locker next to his. "Curtis is a hard guy to replace, but we’re going to do our best just to keep in the race until he gets back. We got some big talents here. Sometimes you don’t need a home run to win a game. There’s a lot of ways you can win a game."

The best way of all is by keeping Cano on the field as much as possible. Joe Girardi is notoriously deliberate and secretive about his lineup decisions, but it's hard to imagine a Yankees lineup without Cano's name in the cleanup spot, every day. Every single day.

"That's the way I like it," he said. "For me, a day off, I would like to be a DH. I don’t like to sit on the bench and just watch a game. I mean it’s good once in a while, but I's rather play. (A day off) is not something that I’m asking for."

Good thing, because as much as Robinson Cano has played the past six years, he's going to have play a little more this year.

UP NOW: A news story about the possibility that Phil Hughes' back injury will keep him from being able to start the regular season with the rest of the team, as well as blog items about why Mark Teixeira thinks baseball should do more to stop PED use, why MLBPA head Michael Weiner think Hal Steinbrenner might take the rubber band off his bankroll, as well as a recap of yesterday's godawful 10-7 loss to the Orioles.

COMING SOON: Clubhouse opens at 9 a.m., followed by live BP sessions thrown by CC Sabathia at 9:40 and Mariano Rivera about 10 minutes later. I'll be on the scene for an eyewitness report, followed by a game at 1:05 p.m. against the Blue Jays, with David Phelps getting the start. I'll be there, too. No Morning Joe today, because the manager doesn't talk before home games, but I'll have some morning notes around 11 a.m., and live in-game updates on my Twitter feed, @ESPNNYYankees. As always, thanks for reading.