Canning shows he's ready to build off comeback season

Strickland's solid spring has right-hander vying for spot in Halos' bullpen

March 25th, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- Coming off a career-high 127 innings in 2023, is gearing up for what he plans on being another season of heavy usage in the Angels’ rotation.

Canning’s bounceback 2023 campaign came after the right-hander missed all of 2022 due to a stress fracture in his lower back, the sort of injury that could cause any player to wonder if he’d be able to resume steady work.

But that’s exactly what Canning did last year, serving as one of the Angels’ most reliable and dependable arms -- and he’s hoping to continue that trend in ‘24.

“We’ve got the potential with those arms to have a real, real, real good, solid pitching staff,” said Angels manager Ron Washington prior to Sunday’s 5-3 exhibition loss to the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

Canning, 27, is certainly among those arms, and the eight-strikeout performance he turned in against a formidable Dodgers lineup backed up such a claim.

It was the most strikeouts Canning recorded in an outing all spring, a stretch of five games that saw him log a 3.78 ERA, allowing eight runs (seven earned) in 16 2/3 innings, recording 18 strikeouts along the way.

And though Canning was tagged for four earned runs in a challenging second inning, he regrouped and capped his afternoon on a high note.

After running into trouble being lifted in favor of reliever Hayden Seig just five outs into the game, Canning returned in the third and recorded six strikeouts in his final 12 batters to wrap his afternoon, including Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman in the fourth and Teoscar Hernández and James Outman in the fifth -- those final four of the swinging variety.

“It’s fun to face him, sure,” Canning said smiling when asked about his showdown with his former teammate, Ohtani. “But once you get in the game and you’re competitive … I don’t want to give up a hit to him, and he wants to get a hit off me. So it’s fun, yeah, but I want to get him out.

“I felt like I had most of my pitches working for me,” he added while discussing his outing against the Dodgers’ A-list lineup of everyday players. “But those guys are such good hitters, you’ve just got to keep mixing it up, keep them on their toes.”

“Well, we had a rough second,” Washington said of Canning’s up-and-down outing, “and they sent nine batters to the plate. It all started with that hit batter. If [he doesn’t hit Will] Smith, maybe they don't open anything up. But you can't give that team over there free passes, give them an opportunity to make something happen, because they would do exactly what they did. After that, we all settled down and started playing some good baseball. So I was very happy with the way it ended, even though we didn't get the win.”

The Angels will hope to rely on Canning to be a key contributor, counting on him to continue ahead with the path he forged a season ago and hopefully avoid any more significant stints on the injured list.

Canning is looking forward to picking up where he left off in 2023, all the same.

“I feel great,” he said after his final appearance before the regular season begins. “Just staying disciplined with my routine, making sure I'm staying on top of everything I need to stay on top of.”

Strickland deals again
It was another strong showing from reliever Hunter Strickland on Sunday, a non-roster invitee who has pitched himself into consideration for one of the Angels’ final roster spots with a stellar spring.

Navigating the sixth inning, the 35-year-old veteran struck out Jason Heyward and coaxed groundouts from Gavin Lux and Miguel Rojas, throwing 12 of his 15 pitches for strikes.

“He was very good,” Washington said of Strickland’s latest performance. “He came in, he pounded the strike zone, and he's been doing it all spring.”

The Angels have yet to announce their 26-man Opening Day roster, but Strickland appears to be in strong consideration for a bullpen role, thanks to a standout spring that hasn’t seen him allow a walk in 10 games (11 innings).

True to form, he didn’t allow a free pass on Sunday, either.

“I expect that, because that's what I've been seeing,” said Washington. “I know it can't happen all the time. But it’s a good thing for Strickland, it's a good thing for us.”