Canning shines in Spring Training debut

February 26th, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Angels right-hander faced a stern test in his Cactus League debut on Wednesday against a Dodgers lineup that featured several regulars, including Mookie Betts, Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, A.J. Pollock, Will Smith, Gavin Lux and Matt Beaty.

Canning looked sharp in the 9-4 Angels loss, throwing two hitless innings, surrendering one walk while inducing four ground balls, with only a fly ball to left from Betts leaving the infield. It was a promising sign for Canning, who is expected to be the club’s fourth starter, and is coming off a strong rookie season that saw him get shut down with a right elbow strain in mid-August.

"It's kind of a different thing than the season," Canning said. "You're just kind of going out there and trying to execute pitches. But I mean, it always comes down to the same thing, just throwing strikes and executing pitches."

Canning, 23, is coming off a rookie season that saw him post a 4.58 ERA with 96 strikeouts, 30 walks and 14 homers allowed in 90 1/3 innings. Canning's strikeout rate of 25 percent was two percentage points better than the league average, while his walk rate of 7.8 percent was also nearly a percentage point lower than the league average. His fastball velocity and spin rate were also above average with only his curveball spin rate below average, but he’s worked to tinker with a better grip coming into this season.

But Canning has to prove he can stay healthy, as his last start came on Aug. 18 after his second bout of elbow trouble last season. But Canning, an Orange County native, stayed back near Angel Stadium this offseason and worked with head strength and conditioning coach Lee Fiocchi to come up with a plan to avoid the injured list this season.

"We just kind of preached durability," Canning said. "I was lucky our strength trainer stayed back in Southern California so we were working out at the stadium."

Canning also has new pitching coach Mickey Callaway preaching about throwing strikes, which sounds simple, but can go a long way. Callaway wants his pitchers to get first-pitch strikes and get at least two strikes within their first three pitches of their at-bats. When Canning was ahead in the count last year, batters hit just .160/.188/.236 against him, but when he was behind, hitters batted .269/.422/.611. Canning's first-pitch strike percentage of 57.8 percent last year was also below the league average of 60.9 percent.

“It's kind of kind of nice to get back to the basics,” Canning said. “I think you can kind of get away from that for whatever reason once you get in pro ball. You can start trying to strike some guys out too much. So it's nice to get back to the basics. You look at the stats and the teams that do the best every year are the teams who are throwing strikes."

Angels manager Joe Maddon has been impressed by Canning’s stuff and his demeanor this spring. Canning is expected to be slotted behind veterans , and in the rotation and Maddon is expecting big things from the 2017 second-round MLB Draft pick out of UCLA.

“Good arm, good delivery,” Maddon said. “Coming out of UCLA, that matters, he’s really a lot further along maturity-wise and he knows what he’s doing out there. This guy can get really good really fast in the Major Leagues. It’s just going to be about how he processes the moment. Physically, talent-wise, he’s high end. He’s going to be very significant for us this year and for years to come.”