Canning finds his groove while throwing strikes

May 11th, 2024

ANAHEIM -- After struggling through his first six starts of the season, right-hander has started to turn things around over his last two outings.

Canning built on his strong start against the Guardians last week by throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Royals in a 2-1 loss marred by a blown save from closer Carlos Estévez on Friday night at Angel Stadium. After posting a 7.45 ERA in 29 innings in March/April, Canning has registered a 1.54 ERA in 11 2/3 innings in his two outings in May. He said he's been helped by a change in mentality while on the mound.

"They are good ones to build off," Canning said. "I've tried to focus on me vs. the hitter instead of me vs. myself. Just focusing on throwing strikes. It's easy sometimes getting caught up in mechanics or other stuff. So just trying to get external instead of internal."

Canning has also seen his fastball velocity improve in his recent starts, and he's been leaning heavily on his changeup and slider. Of his 90 pitches, he threw 28 changeups and 28 sliders compared to just 13 four-seam fastballs.

It kept Kansas City's hitters off-balance, as he registered nine swings and misses, including five with his changeup and three with his slider, while also getting five called strikes with his sneaky fastball.

"His changeup was really giving us trouble," said Royals manager Matt Quatraro. "He was throwing it right-on-right. He was getting it down below the barrel."

Notably, after surrendering a two-out double to Vinnie Pasquantino with two outs in the sixth, Angels manager Ron Washington visited him at the mound. But Washington wasn't there to remove Canning from the game. He was there to give him a pep talk with veteran slugger Salvador Perez coming to the plate.

Canning then walked Perez on nine pitches and was removed in favor of reliever Adam Cimber. Cimber struck out Michael Massey to strand both runners and keep Canning's outing scoreless.

"Salvador was the one guy we didn't want to beat us," Washington said. "There were some good pitches he could've swung at, but he didn't chase. But Canning did exactly what we needed to do to keep us in the ballgame."

Canning thought it was a helpful meeting from Washington, who told him to be aggressive against Perez.

"He told me to go get that guy," Canning said. "It didn't work out, but Perez is a great hitter. He laid off some good pitches, I thought."

However, Canning didn't get much help from the offense, as the Angels only scored on a solo shot from Jo Adell in the fifth off Royals starting pitcher Alec Marsh. It was Adell's sixth homer of the year, but it was all they could muster. The Angels went 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position, making it much more difficult on the pitching staff

"We had plenty of chances," Washington said. "We blew a run in the third on a squeeze. And we had other opportunities but we didn't deliver. In the end, one run is hard to hold on but we had it."

The Angels took a one-run lead into the ninth, but Estévez continued his struggles and served up a go-ahead two-run homer to Adam Frazier with one out. It was the third blown save of the year for Estévez, who has a 6.17 ERA in 12 outings.

Washington said he plans to stick with him in the closer role.

"He's our closer," Washington said. "There was a period there where he was nails. The last few, he tried to hustle to get things down. We got the ball in the right hands and tonight just didn't happen."

Estévez expressed frustration after the game that he couldn't come through, especially after the pitching performances from Canning, Cimber and setup relievers Matt Moore and Luis García.

"After the game the guys pitched, that can't happen," Estévez said. "The part that makes me mad is that after the way the guys pitched, I couldn't deliver. But that's baseball."

He added that his confidence remains high, especially because he's been able to throw strikes this season. He's yet to walk a batter in 11 2/3 innings and believes things will turn around.

"I feel pretty good overall," Estévez said. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish. I'm feeling good. I just gotta fill up the strike zone the best I can."