Canning bounces back nicely after slow start, velo dip

April 18th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- The velocity was back for right-hander and in turn, came with his best outing of the young season after scuffling through his first three starts.

Canning allowed two runs -- both in the first inning -- over 5 1/3 frames, but it wasn’t enough with the offense being held in check in a 2-1 loss to the Rays in the series finale on Thursday afternoon at Tropicana Field. The Angels had to settle for a series split, but came away encouraged by Canning bouncing back against a solid lineup.

“It was obviously a lot better,” Canning said. “I still need to figure out that first inning. But overall, I feel better than where I was at. I feel like I had more life on the ball.”

Canning, who entered with a 9.88 ERA over three starts, had been dealing with a dip in fastball velocity compared to last season. He insisted it was just early in the season and that it would come in time but the Angels also pushed back his last outing by three days to give him extra rest.

It finally came together for Canning against the Rays, although his velocity did drop a bit as his outing went along. His fastball averaged 93.6 mph and reached as high as 94.9 mph. Last year, it averaged 94.7 mph but it was averaging just 92.7 mph through his first three starts this season

“We looked at some mechanical stuff and I think that helped,” Canning said. “And I think it’s also a mindset thing. Just practicing throwing harder in between starts. Nothing too crazy. I just think the mechanical tweaks I made also made the timing better.”

Despite throwing hard early, Canning still ran into trouble in the first after he walked Richie Palacios on six pitches with one out. He then gave up a triple to Amed Rosario, who was able to drive an outside 94.5 mph fastball down the right-field line. Rosario then scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Harold Ramírez. Canning said he was trying to locate his fastball inside to Rosario but missed his spot.

“I pulled that one,” Canning said. “I think in the first inning that’s what I was doing. I was too tentative to just put a fastball in there. So it’s something I need to keep working on to get better.”

It looked like Canning might be heading toward another rough outing but he was able to settle down from there and keep the Angels in it. With the new life on his fastball, he recorded four swings and misses with it and six with his slider. He also didn’t walk another batter after the first inning.

Canning was able to keep the Rays off-balance until running into trouble in the sixth. The Rays put two runners on with nobody out after back-to-back singles, but Canning got Ramírez to ground into a force out at second base.

Angels manager Ron Washington then turned to reliever Luis García with Canning at 84 pitches. The decision panned out, as García induced an inning-ending double play to escape the jam.

“He got into the sixth and got us one out, so it’s a step in the right direction,” Washington said of Canning. “Hopefully, he can build on that. He didn’t get the first-pitch strikes like we’d like to see [11-for-22] but he was able to navigate his pitch count. He kept them off-balance and moved the ball around. He made pitches when he had to.”

But it wasn’t enough with the Angels struggling to get anything going offensively. The lone run they scored came in the sixth and was generated by Mike Trout’s legs. He drew a walk against right-hander Ryan Pepiot before stealing second and third base. He then scored on a sacrifice fly from Miguel Sanó. It gave Trout five steals on the year -- he stole six combined from 2020-23 -- and marked his first multi-steal game since May 20, 2018.

“That’s a part of his game and his skillset,” Washington said. “He doesn’t have to always hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

The Angels didn’t have many other chances and went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position, including pinch-hitter Brandon Drury grounding out with two runners on to end it in the ninth.

“We put ourselves in position at the end of the game to win,” Washington said. “We had the winning run on the bag. All we needed was a big one and it would’ve made a difference.”