When Robinson Cano last appeared in the Mariners’ lineup, he went 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs. That was May 10 in an 11-6 victory at Philadelphia that boosted the Mariners to .500 at 17-17.
Cano aggravated a strained right quadriceps muscle in his last at-bat that day, ironically, by running hard to first base on an infield grounder. (His proclivity for throttling down on routine grounders often prompted criticism in the past.)
The injury caused Cano to miss 11 games. The Mariners went 3-8 in his absence, which brings them into Tuesday’s series opener against Washington at Nationals Park at 20-25 and occupying last place in the American League West Division.
The Mariners activated Cano from the disabled list prior to Tuesday’s game, and his return should provide a major boost to a slumping attack.
“The hardest thing was just to sit down and watch the game,” he said. “It’s something for me that’s really hard. I didn’t want to go on the DL. I was willing to play with one leg, but they were like, `No, no. We don’t want it to get worse.’”
While the spotlight remains on the Mariners’ injury-depleted rotation — and they’re starting three pitchers against the Nationals who projected to be part of the Triple-A Tacoma rotation — a lack of punch accelerated their recent slide.
The Mariners scored fewer than three runs in seven of 11 games in Cano’s absence. Prior to his injury, they averaged 5.2 runs per game, which ranked second at the time among all American League clubs.
***Right-hander Christian Bergman (1-1 with a 2.25 ERA) looks to build off a strong dominant outing in his last start when he faces Washington right-hander Joe Ross (1-0, 7.47) at 4:05 p.m. Pacific time Tuesday in the series opener. Bergman pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings on May 17 in a 4-0 victory over Oakland.
***Bergman never pitched at Nationals Park in his three previous seasons at Colorado, although he made one relief appearance against Washington in Denver. He gave up two runs in his only inning on a homer by Bryce Harper. Ross has never faced the Mariners in his three big-league seasons.
***The Mariners recalled catcher Mike Zunino and reliever Emilio Pagan on Monday’s open date. Zunino batted .293 with five homers and 11 RBIs in a 12-game stay at Triple-A Tacoma after a dreadful big-league start in 24 games.
Zunino figures to reassume duties as the Mariners’ primary catcher. Pagan is a rookie back for a second big-league tour. The first one didn’t go well: five runs in 2 2/3 innings in two appearances.
***The Mariners are 0-6 in two previous trips to Washington. They suffered 3-0 sweeps in 2005 at old RFK Stadium and in 2011 at Nationals Park. Washington holds a 13-5 edge in the all-time series.
***The Nationals (26-17) had lost four in a row prior to Sunday’s 3-2 victory at Atlanta. They lead the National League East Division by 6 1/2 games over the Braves.
***Designated hitter Nelson Cruz will play right field for the first time this season in order to keep his bat in the lineup. His 37 RBIs are tied with Minnesota’s Miguel Sano for the American League lead. Cruz also has 11 homers in his last 33 games.
***Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper leads the majors with 42 runs and, like Cruz, has 37 RBIs. But Harper’s RBI count doesn’t even lead his team. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman has 38.
***Harper and Zimmerman also each have 13 homers — one Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, the National League leader, who is on the disabled list.
***Washington leads the majors in scoring (5.72 runs a game), batting average (.274) and slugging percentage (.471) and OPS (.817).
It was 23 years ago Tuesday — May 23, 1994 — that Ken Griffey Jr. broke Mickey Mantle’s record for homers through May when he hit No. 21 in a 7-5 loss at Oakland.
Mantle set the record in 1956. Griffey finished the month with 22 homers.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners