Confident and excited Middleton returns from TJ

August 28th, 2019

ANAHEIM -- As reliever stood at his locker ready to take questions from reporters about his long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery on Tuesday, he said he was just trying to keep his emotions under control.

He was then asked how that was going, and Middleton couldn’t help but be honest about how excited he felt to return after undergoing the operation in May of 2018, and spending 15 months rehabbing the injury.

"Right now, I’m failing," Middleton said with a laugh about keeping his emotions in check. "I’m really excited. It’s been a long time. There’s a lot of stuff going on in my head right now. Just ready to pitch. Ready to be back with these guys."

Middleton, 25, was officially reinstated from the 60-day injured list on Tuesday, with struggling reliever Taylor Cole optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake. Middleton was in the process of becoming a key reliever in 2018, posting a 2.04 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings before tearing his right ulnar collateral ligament. He was also solid as a rookie in 2017, with a 3.86 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings.

The Angels hope to get Middleton going down the stretch, as he could be a big piece in the bullpen next year. But they’ll be cautious with him early.

"We’ll have to ease him in," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. "We’ll be very aware of the usage, number of pitches, back to backs, all that. Probably wouldn’t go back to back initially because he didn’t do it in the Minor Leagues, but I don’t foresee a long wait before that happening.”

Middleton made two separate rehab assignments, as he suffered a setback that forced him to briefly shut it down in July. He dealt with a nerve issue in his elbow that subsided with rest, and continued his rehab with no trouble. He fared well in his 10 rehab outings, posting a 1.00 ERA with 16 strikeouts and six walks in nine innings.

“I felt really good,” Middleton said. “Secondaries are coming along really good. This whole process has just been working on the changeup. That’s a pitch I’m going to use a lot going forward. It’s good. Slider’s good. Velo’s been sitting 95 [mph], anywhere from 94 to 96. I feel really good, and I’m very confident.”

Canning optimistic

Right-hander Griffin Canning met with the media for the first time since the Angels announced on Thursday that he’d be shut down for the season with right elbow inflammation. Canning, who underwent an MRI exam that revealed no structural damage, said he’s glad it’s not a serious injury, and the next step is trying to prevent similar injuries in the future. Canning also missed 10 games in early August with the same issue.

"I'm feeling a lot better right now," Canning said. "But it's probably the smarter thing right now just to let the inflammation calm down and just get some rest. I don't think we really had any major concern about it, but again, you don't really know what's going on inside your body. Just to get that MRI and just figure out for sure that there was nothing wrong [with] it, obviously, it makes everyone feel better."

Canning said he’s been talking with the training staff about what he can do to prevent the injury from cropping up again in future seasons. He doesn’t believe it’s related to his mechanics, but there are ways he could limit the stress on his elbow.

“I have some ideas,” Canning said. “I think, honestly, most of it is just probably taking down the intensity a little bit in between starts. Even if I'm feeling good, I don't need to be letting it go every single day."

Canning, 23, turned in a promising rookie season, posting a 4.58 ERA with 96 strikeouts, 30 walks and 14 homers allowed in 90 1/3 innings. Canning, the club's second-round pick out of UCLA in 2017, showed off swing-and-miss stuff, as he had a swinging strike rate of 13.8 percent that would've tied for 12th among qualified Major League starters. It’s in the same company as noted strikeout artists Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg and Robbie Ray.

"I'm not going to be too critical of it," Canning said of his season. "I try to take it just day by day, week by week. Just the stuff I was able to learn and pick up from guys in the clubhouse, and watching other pitchers around the league. ... It's only going to benefit me."

Fletcher honored pregame

Infielder was honored as the club’s winner of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association's (MLBPAA) Heart and Hustle Award before Tuesday’s game, with Ausmus presenting him with the award in a pregame ceremony. Each team has a winner and it's based on the passion, desire and work ethic demonstrated both on and off the field. The overall winner will be announced on Nov. 7.

Anderson to throw bullpen Sunday

Reliever (right trapezius strain) threw on flat ground on Tuesday, and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Sunday. He’ll be reevaluated after pitching off a mound, as he could throw a simulated game before being reinstated.