Angels right-hander Griffin Canning, on a solid run since a slow start to the season, turned in one of his best outings of the year against the Padres on Tuesday night.
Canning allowed one run on two hits over six innings, setting a career high with 10 strikeouts to help the Angels to a 4-2 win in the series opener at Petco Park. They remained 3 1/2 games back of the Astros for the second playoff spot from the American League West, with four games remaining.
"I feel like they're just one of those teams that tries to think along with me and I feel like when I'm going well, I'm able to kind of usually be one step ahead and keep mixing things up," Canning said. "I pretty much threw everything I had at them. A lot of curveballs, some changes in there later. And I think the fastball command was better tonight."
After posting a 4.88 ERA over his first six starts through Aug. 22, Canning has turned it around with a 3.14 ERA over his last five outings to lower his ERA to 3.99 in 11 starts. It’s a good sign for the 24-year-old, who is expected to be counted on in 2021 and beyond.
“He's even better than that,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I'm telling you right now, when he really formulates a game plan to stick with and gains command of that fastball, sky's the limit. Because everything else plays off of that.”
Canning had some control problems, walking five, which kept him from getting deeper into the game. But he was fooling Padres hitters, as he generated 20 swings-and-misses, including nine with his curveball, five with his slider, four with his changeup and two with his fastball. His curveball has been a big reason for his continued development this year. He altered his grip to make it more of a spike curveball and it's getting results.
"He's got some plus offspeed pitches, and when he falls behind is when he tends to get into trouble,” said catcher Max Stassi, who went 4-for-4 with two homers. "He got into a little trouble early on but really established his fastball, and his offspeed stuff just really pops out. And that's when you see him get those big swings-and-misses."
The right-hander gave up his lone run in the first inning, when he loaded the bases with nobody out after issuing two walks and a single. Eric Hosmer brought home a run on a sacrifice fly, but Canning escaped further trouble with Fernando Tatis Jr. being thrown out at third on a stolen base attempt and Tommy Pham striking out to end the inning.
Canning loaded the bases with nobody out again in the third but got Manny Machado to ground into a double play and struck out Hosmer to get out of the inning unscathed.
"You can see what a great athlete he is defensively," Maddon said. "That ball hit back to him, the double play, that was very large. He's got the stuff to get out of jams -- he does. He's got the strikeout ability, both sides of the plate. As he continues to learn how to utilize all the weapons at his disposal, which are formidable, he can continue to do this."
Canning was backed offensively by Stassi’s first career multihomer game. Stassi launched a solo shot in the second on a 1-0 changeup from right-hander Zach Davies and added a two-run blast in the sixth on a 1-0 cutter from Davies. It has been a big improvement offensively from Stassi, who has seven homers in 29 games this year after going 3-for-42 with no homers in 20 games with the Angels last year.
"It's kind of a running joke. I think everybody calls him 'The Babe' around here now," Canning said. "He was awesome tonight offensively. I think it was since last season, we worked together, so it was fun. We were on the same page. Just talking about how we want to attack these guys and just keep mixing it up."