Canning to have further testing on ailing elbow

February 28th, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels right-hander Griffin Canning underwent an MRI exam on his right elbow that revealed chronic changes to his ulnar collateral ligament and acute joint irritation, and he will be reevaluated on Saturday.

The MRI results were essentially inconclusive, as Canning will undergo further testing and consult with team doctors on Saturday. It’s unknown whether Canning has a tear in his UCL that would require Tommy John surgery, but there’s hope he could avoid surgery with treatment.

"We're still kind of waiting to see,” Canning said. “I'm going to see the doctor again tomorrow. So we'll see what happens. It's just those chronic changes, which is basically just the normal wear and tear that throwers get. So I'm hoping that it's something that we can just figure out tomorrow."

Canning said he felt stiffness in his elbow after throwing two scoreless innings against the Dodgers on Wednesday, but that he never felt pain on any pitch. His fastball velocity was around 93 mph during his outing, per the stadium radar reading. He compared it to what he felt last year, when he missed time twice with elbow strains, including one that caused him to be shut down for the season in mid-August.

“There’s still some hope, which I thought was good,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I just want to dwell on that. We’ll know more tomorrow and take it from there. It’s not devastatingly bad news in the moment. I’m just waiting to hear more.

“Listen, I like this kid. We all do. This kid is good. He’s going to be really good. We just have to wait and see how it plays out. I’d love to get him back this year, but I honestly don’t know how it’s going to play out yet.”

Canning was slated to be the club’s No. 4 starter after a solid rookie year that saw him post a 4.58 ERA with 96 strikeouts, 30 walks and 14 homers allowed in 90 1/3 innings. The 23-year-old was the club’s best pitching prospect coming into last season.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said it’s too early to know what will happen with Canning but that his injury hasn’t caused him to look at any potential free agents or trades to add more pitching just yet.

"There are going to be some more assessments as well as consultation with our docs when they get to town," Eppler said. “Griffin is a very talented pitcher. He’s made an impact in a very short period of time at the Major League level. A lot of people have seen his ability level. He’s an important member of the staff.”

If Canning misses time, the Angels’ starting pitching depth will be tested. Veterans Andrew Heaney, Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy are all locks to be in the rotation, but two spots could open up if Canning isn’t ready for the start of the year or misses the season.

Right-hander Matt Andriese, acquired in an offseason trade with the D-backs, could be slotted into the rotation, while others such as Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, Jaime Barria and Dillon Peters would compete for the final spot in the rotation. Félix Peña is coming off right knee surgery and isn’t expected to be stretched out enough to start to open the year.

“There is some depth there,” Eppler said. “It’s there for a reason. Whether you use it early on while guys recover and come back, that’s one of the permutations that can happen. We’ll see where we go from here.”

Maddon, though, cautioned that it could cause the Angels to rely too heavily on youngsters such as Sandoval, Suarez or Barria -- all of whom could benefit from some seasoning at Triple-A Salt Lake.

“There are some nice candidates, but some of these kids, if you have to rely on them too early, it’s not what you want to do,” Maddon said. “So yes, our depth is being challenged right now, and on Saturday, we’ll find out if our depth is tested a lot or a little. But even if [Canning is] well, it’ll be challenged, because we’ll probably have to monitor him very closely.”