'Natural leader' Canning impressing with work ethic

February 26th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Angels manager Ron Washington extended his right fist high above his right shoulder and kept his left hand at chest level.

The subject was , and the talk had turned to leadership.

“Very impressive. You watch him work,” Washington said.

Washington raised his right arm.

“This is Canning,” he said. “And this is everybody else. This right here is leadership. I don’t care how old the pitchers are that we have on the mound. It’s the way he goes about his business. You watch him. I saw that. I was impressed, and I had to tell him.

“This man, he stands out in everything he does. He really does. He has all the other intangibles.”

Canning made his first Spring Training appearance Monday, throwing 32 pitches over two scoreless innings in the Angels’ 11-9 win over the Giants.

He pitched around four hits -- two singles in both the first and second innings -- and struck out Michael Conforto swinging on his changeup for the second out of the first. He used only eight pitches in the second.

“Breaking some rust off, but just nice to get out there and compete,” Canning said. “Obviously, I can be a little bit sharper with some of my pitches, but I want to attack the zone. Don’t want to walk people.”

Canning seemed all in on a leadership role.

“You look at it, I’m one of the guys who have been with the Angels the longest now,” Canning said. “I know kind of where we can improve and that kind of thing. If we can turn around the culture and kind of set it the way we want to. Anything I can do to help."

Canning joined the Angels’ starting rotation in 2019. Though he is only 27, he is one of the longest-tenured members of the staff. Patrick Sandoval and José Suarez, who is in the mix for a long-relief role this season, also were promoted in 2019.

“Obviously, Wash has been in the league for a long time, so that’s awesome to hear,” Canning said. “I want to prove him right. I want to be a leader, so I’ll do what I can.

“For me, personally, it is kind of [leading] by example. I’m not the most vocal guy. Just taking some of the younger guys off to the side and teaching them, helping them any way I can.”

Canning set career highs in virtually every category in 2023, when he was 7-8 with a 4.32 ERA in 24 appearances (22 starts) while returning from a stress fracture in his lower back that cost him the 2022 season.

Both his counting numbers and his ratios were notable. Canning struck out 139 and walked 36 in 127 innings, and he set career bests with 9.85 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.55 walks per nine. His ground-ball percentage (43%) also was a career high.

Canning has a starter's four-pitch mix -- fastball, slider, changeup, curve -- and his changeup, which averages around 90 mph, has proven to be a valuable asset. He bumped up the change usage his last two healthy seasons and threw it 21% of the time in 2023. That pitch graded out as his best, according to FanGraphs.

“I love throwing that pitch,” Canning said. “That’s the one I feel I can go to in any count.”

Washington said Canning’s attitude and presence remind him of right-hander Colby Lewis, whom Washington managed with the Rangers from 2010-14. The Rangers won the American League pennant in both 2010 and '11, when Lewis won 26 games between the two seasons.

“He was a competitor and a leader,” Washington said. “He was very competitive. [Pitchers] gravitated to him by the way he went about his business. That’s what Canning reminds me of.

“He’s an athlete, and he’s a natural leader. That attribute I want him to use every day. I want him to lead. Some things that he may not know, we have experience around here to teach. Once they teach it to him, he will know. When you give him something, he will learn.”