NEW YORK — Robinson Cano stopped Joe Girardi after the manager posted Friday night's lineup with the second baseman batting fourth for the first time in his career.
"Are you sure?" Cano said.
"Yeah, I'm sure," Girardi replied.
Turns out Girardi knew exactly what he was doing.
Cano hit a grand slam and finished with three hits, helping Phil Hughes and the New York Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians 8-2.
"It was great," Cano said. "It's a good feeling, first time being cleanup hitter/"
Hughes struck out the first five batters he faced and allowed two runs over seven innings in his best start since he tossed seven scoreless innings in a win at Detroit on May 12. The right-hander went 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his first six games of the season but struggled in each of his previous two starts.
"My last couple outings, with two outs I had struggled to put the inning away and put guys away," Hughes said. "I just felt like I did a better job of that today."
Cano also scored three times while manning the usual lineup spot for Alex Rodriguez, who got the day off after the Yankees arrived in New York early Friday morning.
Girardi smiled as he recalled his pregame conversation with Cano and marveled at his stellar all-around skills. He leads the Yankees' regulars with a .351 batting average, 10 homers and 34 RBIs.
"He's been a big part of our winning, definitely," Girardi said, "and it's not just his offense. It's his defense as well. His defense has been excellent.
"He's an all-around complete player, and he's been a big part of this," Girardi added.
Russell Branyan hit his fifth homer and Jhonny Peralta had an RBI double for Cleveland, mired in last in the AL Central. Center fielder Trevor Crowe made an outstanding catch on Juan Miranda's drive to deep right-center in the fourth.
Fausto Carmona (4-3) gave up four runs and seven hits in six innings to lose his second consecutive start.
"I felt Fausto battled for us really well," manager Manny Acta said. "He gave us a chance for six innings but we couldn't get anything started against Hughes or anyone else."
Coming off a 3-3 trip that closed out a challenging stretch of its schedule, New York improved to 14-6 at Yankee Stadium by taking the opener of a seven-game homestand. The next couple of weeks look much easier for the defending World Series champions, with 13 of their next 16 games against cellar dwellers Cleveland, Baltimore and Houston.
Nick Swisher hit a two-run homer, Derek Jeter had two infield singles and Curtis Granderson looked just fine in his first game since May 1. Granderson, who was sidelined with a strained left groin, moved around center field with ease and reached base three times, including a sharp double.
Swisher's drive in the second inning bounced high off the right-field foul pole and gave New York a 2-0 lead. Peralta drove in Travis Hafner with a liner into the left-field corner in the fourth, but the Yankees added two runs in the sixth and four more in the seventh.
That was more than enough for Hughes (6-1), who struck out eight and walked one while lowering his ERA to 2.70. He was 0-1 with a 7.59 ERA in his previous two games against the Red Sox and Mets.
"He threw a good fastball," Peralta said. "He was working with the cutter. His best pitch was the cutter; we didn't hit it too good tonight."
Cano connected against Tony Sipp in the seventh for his third grand slam and first since Sept. 28, 2009, against Kansas City. He briefly stopped to admire the drive into the second deck in right before rounding the bases.
"It's so exciting," said Cano, who obliged the crowd of 44,634 with a brief curtain call, "not because you hit a grand slam, because it's good for four runs and that you helped the team to win a game."
Sipp failed to retire any of the five batters he faced, yielding four runs and three hits. The left-hander entered with a string of 15 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run.
"I was fortunate to have the run that I did," Sipp said. "Games like this bring you back to reality."
Indians CF Grady Sizemore was in New York to get another opinion on his ailing left knee and Acta said the team probably would have another update on the three-time All-Star by the end of the weekend. … Yankees reliever Alfredo Aceves got a second epidural for his ailing back. … OF Randy Winn was designated for assignment to make room for Granderson.