MINNEAPOLIS -- It has been an easy decision for opposing managers to circle Robinson Cano's name in the Yankees lineup and decide that, no matter what, they'd rather take their chances with someone else in a big situation.
That is part of the reason that Cano is looking forward to having Alex Rodriguez back in the Yankees' depleted batting order, potentially offering an increase in protection if and when he completes his Minor League rehabilitation assignment.
"We want him back," Cano said. "As a player, when you love this game, all you want is to be able to play the game, not be hurt and be away from the game for a long time. It's frustrating."
Cano entered play on Monday batting .287 with 17 home runs and 48 RBIs in 81 games, and he is leading fan balloting to start at second base for the American League in the All-Star Game.
But manager Joe Girardi acknowledges that Cano's numbers are not quite where they are expected to be.
"He may not have as many opportunities with some of the injuries that we've had," Girardi said. "He doesn't maybe have some of the protection that he's had in the past. I think he's having a pretty decent first half, what he's done so far."
A-Rod was a scapegoat in the Yankees' postseason elimination last season, coming as he went just 3-for-35 against Orioles and Tigers pitching, but Cano's struggles were even worse (3-for-40, .075).
He knows that he wasn't bringing his best in the playoffs, and Cano expects that A-Rod will be a much different player once he returns.
"I don't think it will affect him," Cano said. "We didn't know he was hurt. If he's healthy, he can do a lot of good things in this game. I know fans are going to be on his side. Hopefully he'll come back and start doing good right away."
Cano said that he has been texting with Rodriguez on a semi-regular basis, but with Rodriguez now primed to begin playing in Minor League games, Cano will keep closer tabs on Rodriguez's progress.
"I knew he was hurt and he was doing rehab," Cano said. "I'd ask him how he feels, how he's doing. Now it's different; now I can text him, see how he feels, how he's doing in the game. Hopefully we'll see him back soon."