Cano starting to heat up at the plate

Cano starting to heat up at the plate

PITTSBURGH -- Robinson Cano's season has, to this point, featured a sequence of false starts -- each promising that the worst has been left behind, only to discover another rough patch waiting around the bend.

With six hits in his past two games, Cano is again hoping the tough times will disappear into the rearview mirror for good.

"People have asked me if it's the turning point, and I've thought a couple of times, 'Yes,'" Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We all feel and believe that Robbie is a lot better hitter than .220 or .230. Maybe this is the turning point."

Entering Thursday, Cano was hitting just .241 with five home runs and 28 RBIs this season, but after going 3-for-5 with a solo home run in Wednesday's 10-0 rout of the Pirates, he came into the series finale on Thursday wielding 14 hits in his past 33 at-bats.

"I don't care about the homers," Cano said. "All I care is about getting on base for my teammates. That's the way you can win some games. If I get on base, the other guys will do good the whole year."

Cano was certainly banking on a less-frustrating showing after signing a four-year, $30 million contract extension prior to the season, but for whatever reason, the early hits chose not to fall until recently.

"It's been great the last two weeks," Cano said. "I had bad luck, but now everything is great. [The season] is not over yet. You think about it, because I know if I get on base, it's a different game."

As Cano points out, he is making consistently better contact than last season, when he struck out 48 times in his first 77 games. Cano entered Thursday's game having struck out just 25 times in his first 77 games of 2008.

"He's hitting the ball hard," Girardi said. "He hasn't had the best luck either."

During the Yankees' series in Houston, Cano was taken out of the lineup to clear his head for an afternoon, an approach Girardi also used in April at Tampa Bay when he saw Cano dragging. Including that June 14 game against the Astros when he stroked a pinch-hit run-scoring single, Cano has hit .424 with six runs scored, three doubles and eight RBIs.

A strong second half would not be unprecedented -- teaming with fellow slow starter Melky Cabrera, Cano batted .343 in the second half last season, including .385 in July, to help the Yankees secure the American League Wild Card.

"One thing that helps them is that they've been through it before," Girardi said. "They know eventually that they're going to come out and they're going to get hot. They're going to put a nice streak together, and eventually they're going to be where they're supposed to be."

Cano said that he doesn't look back on his struggles from last year for inspiration, but he believes that the lessons of 2007 made him a strong player.

"Last year was the first time that I was in that kind of funk like that," Cano said. "It was hard for me, but I handled it. There's no point in being down. All I did was work hard and get out of the slump, and I'm going to keep doing the same thing this year."

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