'I'm really proud of him': Canning finishes season on high note

September 28th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- After he missed the 2022 season due to a stress fracture in his lower back, it was hard to know what to expect from right-hander this year.

But Canning was able to get through the season without any major injury concerns and was one of the club’s most dependable starters. He finished his season by throwing six strong innings in a 5-0 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday at Angel Stadium. Canning allowed two runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts to fall to 7-8 with a 4.32 ERA in 24 outings (22 starts) this season.

“Obviously, I need to reflect on it and take some time, but I’m really proud of myself for not pitching for a year and a half and to come back and throw 127 innings,” Canning said. “It’s something I can be really proud of for myself. And I’m just really thankful for the people I had behind me this whole time and helped me get back to this point.”

Canning finished the season strong, much like left-hander Reid Detmers, as he posted a 3.49 ERA over his final seven appearances with 43 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings. He threw a career-high 127 innings this year and struck out 139, walked 36 and allowed 22 homers. And he did it by showing better velocity than in recent years, as his fastball averaged a career-high 94.7 mph, while he also leaned heavily on his slider, changeup and curveball.

Canning opened the season on the injured list with a left groin strain but made his debut on April 12 and stayed healthy throughout the year outside of a short stint on the IL with right calf tightness that caused him to miss 14 games in late July and early August.

“I was healthy pretty much the whole year,” Canning said. “Felt good other than the normal grind of 162 innings. So just a lot of positives to build off and I can only get better from here.”

Canning was consistent and despite his injury history, Angels manager Phil Nevin wasn’t afraid to lean on him for high pitch count totals, including throwing 111 pitches against the Rangers on Wednesday. He also threw 120 pitches against the Yankees on July 17, 112 against the D-backs on June 30 and 109 against both the Tigers on Sept. 15 and the Rays on Sept. 21. The Angels had a starting pitcher throw at least 109 pitches just 10 times this year and Canning did it five times.

“If someone misses a year and a half, it gets questioned from the outside, but he’s tough and he showed it this year,” Nevin said. “He was coming off a year of zero innings and he didn’t really throw that much the year before that either. So he was excited about that.”

After Canning walked Jonah Heim to put two runners on with two outs in the sixth, Nevin came out to the mound with Canning at 109 pitches. But Nevin left Canning in, which surprised even reliever Andrew Wantz, who started his trot from the bullpen, only to have to turn around after running about 50 feet. Canning then got Mitch Garver to ground out on an 0-1 slider to end his outing.

“Wantz sure thought I was taking him out,” Nevin said with a smile. “I saw where his pitches were and thought he had thrown enough. But I saw his face as I went to the mound and I knew he wanted it. So I told him, ‘Here’s one more hitter, let’s go and finish strong.’”

He gave up an early run on a two-out RBI double from Adolis García in the first inning and also surrendered a solo shot to García in the third. García’s double came on a 1-2 curveball and his homer came on a 3-2 fastball on the 10th pitch of the at-bat.

But Canning, 27, pitched well enough that he should factor into the club's rotation plans in 2024. Canning, who earned $850,000 this year, is under team control through 2025 and is eligible for arbitration for a second time after the season, but he is considered a lock to be tendered a contract.

“There was one start in LA where there were a bunch of runs in an inning and there was one other start like that [against Houston] but other than that he had a heck of a year,” Nevin said. “He pitched deep into games and kept us in games all year. I’m really proud of him.”