Youthful Mariners rely on Robinson Cano in 2014

Youthful Mariners rely on Robinson Cano in 2014

Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

Youthful Mariners rely on Robinson Cano in 2014

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by Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY

KREM.com

Posted on April 8, 2014 at 4:45 PM

The nearly four-month wait for Seattle Mariners fans to see prized acquisition Robinson Cano play at Safeco Field finally ends today when the club hosts the Los Angeles Angels in its home opener.

And yet, only those with keen powers of observation will truly appreciate what the Mariners got for their $240 million investment.

Seattle's 4-2 record offers a hint of Cano's impact, but that quick start was fashioned mostly on the shoulders of a pitching staff that had a franchise-best 1.91 ERA over its first five games, holding opponents to three runs or fewer every time until Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics.

Cano reached the playoffs seven times in nine seasons with the Yankees, and part of what he brings to the youthful Mariners is a winning attitude.

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Asked how eager he was to play in front of his new fans, Cano replied, "It's not about demonstrating what I can do, but us playing good baseball and competing to win."

The Mariners say Cano's contributions to their early success go beyond his .391 batting average and .978 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and perhaps are best reflected in players such as Abraham Almonte, Seattle's rookie center fielder and leadoff hitter.

Almonte knew Cano from their time in the Yankees organization and in their native Dominican Republic but notices his influence even more.

"The biggest thing I've seen is what most don't see," said Almonte, 24. "Everybody expects the Robinson who's going to get three hits and make a good play, but the person he is here in the clubhouse, the support, the advice for us young players, that desire to help those trying to make it, is one of the best things he's got. He's a leader."

As such, he sets an example with his actions. When Cano, previously accused of not always playing hard, turns a single into a hustle double by noticing a weak-armed center fielder is playing back — as he did Sunday against the A's Coco Crisp — teammates notice.

Cano says that's what the youthful Mariners must do to turn around their fortunes after finishing fourth in the AL West eight times in the last 10 seasons.

"We have a good team," he said, "but have to take advantage of our chances."

Seattle will get lots of chances to make a mark right away, playing its first 16 games and 28 of its first 34 against division rivals.

The two-game set against the Angels — whom the Mariners outscored 26-8 in their opening series — features intriguing rookie left-handers from entirely different backgrounds.

Today's starter, James Paxton, is a highly regarded prospect from Canada who threw seven scoreless innings against the Angels in his first outing.

The next night, former Cuban league reliever Roenis Elias, who unexpectedly earned a spot on the rotation in the spring despite never before pitching above Class AA, allowed two hits and one run in a five-inning, big-league debut vs. the A's.

They have shored up a rotation missing All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker, who are recovering from injuries.

They have helped set the course new manager Lloyd McClendon was hoping for to start the season.

"I like our state of mind," McClendon said. "They believe in their talent, believe in each other. And I think they know they can play."

Ortiz reported from Oakland

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