Here was a hint Monday night of what a resurgent Robinson Cano could mean to the Seattle Mariners.
Cano delivered a pair of RBI singles that proved decisive in a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. They were his first RBIs in nearly two weeks.
“It’s just good when you’re able to do your job with men in scoring position,” he said. “That’s what helps you to win games. For me, it’s been a struggle with men in scoring position.
“Hopefully, it turned today.”
There might not be anything the Mariners are hoping for more.
“The bat speed is back,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He got a couple of big hits. There’s nothing like positive results. This guy’s track record is so good, you know he’s going to hit.
“You’re just waiting on when.”
Cano’s first RBI single keyed a two-run first inning against Tampa Bay starter Jake Odorizzi, who allowed nothing more in his seven innings. The Mariners scored their final two runs against the Rays’ bullpen.
But that two-run first inning, as it turned out, was sufficient for left-hander Roenis Elias and a bullpen relay of Mark Lowe, Carson Smith and Fernando Rodney.
Elias (2-1) held the Rays to one run and six hits in six innings, which marked his 16th straight start of holding an opponent to three or fewer runs.
“I battled through the first few innings,” he said. “When I got in trouble, I just relaxed and tried to throw strikes. Just maintain the situation. Stay nice and calm.”
Elias’ streak ranks third in franchise history. Felix Hernandez had an 18-game run last season, while Erik Bedard holds the record at 20 in 2008-09.
“The way he’s been throwing,” catcher Mike Zunino said, “he has a lot of trust in his change-up. He used that a couple of times with guys on base to get some ground balls and get us out of some innings.”
Tampa Bay’s only run came on a leadoff homer by Logan Forsythe in the sixth inning. Elias then stranded two more runners in the sixth, which made eight overall, before McClendon went to the bullpen.
“I heard my old skipper saying, ‘After the third time of being in trouble, get him out of there,’ ” McClendon said. “I could hear him talking in the back of my head.”
Lowe protected a 2-1 lead by working around a two-out single and a wild pitch in the seventh after beginning the inning by making a nice pickup and throw on Brandon Guyer’s leadoff squibber.
Seth Smith then started the eighth inning against reliever Steve Geltz with a double off the glove of shortstop Tim Beckham.
After Brad Miller took a third strike, Cano delivered his second RBI single of the game with a grounder through the right side.
That meant Smith inherited a two-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, which he started by hitting Beckham. But Smith retired the next two hitters before ex-Mariner Nick Franklin lined out to third baseman Kyle Seager.
Franklin’s drive appeared headed for left field before Seager made a lunging catch.
Zunino’s two-out homer in the ninth against Brandon Gomes meant Rodney had a three-run cushion in picking up his 13th save in 14 chances.
Odorizzi (3-5) deserved better — even in the first inning, when the Mariners broke on top as Cano snapped a 0 for 12 skid by driving in his first run since May 12. Nelson Cruz added an RBI single for the 2-0 lead.
“I’ve been swinging the bat well,” Cano said. “Today, I was able to stay back and use my back leg instead of jumping out there.”
And when the ball scooted through the infield?
“It was, like, ‘This is when,’ ” Cano said. “I know in this life, nothing is going to be perfect. … These are the things that make you stronger and make you a better player.”
The Mariners will settle for the player he has always been.