Soriano becomes a starter; Canning finds his rhythm

March 2nd, 2024

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Angels are experimenting with a top arm this spring, as right-hander is being stretched out as a starter after a breakout rookie season in 2023.

Soriano made his first start of the spring in a "B" game against the D-backs in Scottsdale on Saturday, allowing one hit over three innings and striking out five. He was initially scheduled to take the mound against Arizona in Cactus League play on Saturday, but the Angels made a last-minute switch to allow him to start in a more controlled environment. Logan O'Hoppe caught Soriano and went 2-for-5 with a homer at the plate while leading off each inning.

"Outstanding," manager Ron Washington said of Soriano. "He dominated for three innings. He threw the ball across the plate so consistently that he had to throw 10 more pitches in the bullpen. But he was throwing his sinker and his breaking ball. And he made an adjustment against [Emmanuel] Rivera, who got him on a slider. Rivera looked for a slider that next at-bat and never got it. And he blew that fastball by him."

Soriano, 25, posted a 3.64 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 42 innings last year and is expected to be one of the club's top setup relievers this year. But Soriano was previously a top prospect as a starting pitcher before undergoing Tommy John surgery twice and being converted to a relief role last year.

Soriano has a four-pitch mix that includes his sinker, four-seamer, curveball and slider, which profiles well as a starting pitcher. He also has a 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame, so Washington said it was worth a shot this spring to see how Soriano fares as a starter.

Washington said there's still a chance that Soriano goes back to being a reliever, as it's always possible to get back down to shorter outings after being stretched out. But he pointed to former lefty C.J. Wilson as a player who made a successful jump to starting after being a reliever while managing the Rangers.

"When I first got here, I was looking at him as a reliever, but because of the stuff he has, how strong he is, he's gonna get a chance to start to see where it goes," Washington said. "We know he can throw out the bullpen. That's a given. So for now, we're just going to assess one thing at a time."

The Angels bulked up their bullpen with several offseason additions but need more starting pitching depth. It's why Andrew Wantz is also being stretched out after being a reliever in each of the last three seasons. Wantz threw 2 1/3 innings in long relief against the D-backs in his second spring outing. He's likely to open the year with Triple-A Salt Lake to give the Angels some relief depth.

"I thought he was very impressive," Washington said. "He pounded the strike zone. He has a live arm. This was my second time seeing him and the more I see him, the more I like him."

Canning solid in start vs. Arizona

Right-hander Griffin Canning was originally slated to pitch in Saturday's "B" game but ended up starting against the D-backs instead at Tempe Diablo Stadium, a 4-1 Angels victory. Canning went three innings in his second start of the spring, allowing one run on three hits while striking out three. He was efficient, as he threw just 35 pitches and had to throw 10 more in the bullpen after his outing.

"I was definitely a little bit sharper," Canning said. "Just kind of getting back toward that feel that I want. Something I can do a better job of is just getting ahead. I think some of the hard contact I gave up was because I was behind in the count."

Canning, 27, is coming off a season that saw him post a 4.32 ERA with 139 strikeouts in 127 innings. He proved he could stay healthy after missing the 2022 season with a back injury and said his goal this spring is to work on his mechanics and get everything in order before the start of the season.

"For me, it's just the feel of my delivery," Canning said. "I'm just trying to get my rhythm and timing right."