As Cano stares down hitters, he's staring down an O's record

Righty becomes 1st Baltimore pitcher since 1976 to retire 1st 20 batters faced in a season

April 25th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- His overpowering sinker is blowing past opponents. His nasty changeup is leaving them fooled. His 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame is striking poses upon striking out hitters.

, the breakout star of the Orioles’ bullpen this April, is feeling good right now. The 29-year-old right-hander isn’t hiding it. And as he continues to rack up retired batters and perfect appearances, he’s gaining even more of manager Brandon Hyde’s trust to continue using him in big situations.

None larger than Cano’s assignment Monday night.

With closer Félix Bautista unavailable due to a high early-season usage rate, Hyde called upon Cano to get the final three outs in a one-run contest against the Red Sox. Again, Cano came through, setting down three consecutive Boston hitters and sealing Baltimore’s 5-4 win at Camden Yards.

As the Orioles won their seventh consecutive game -- and their 11th in the past 13 -- Cano moved closer to a team record. He’s retired the first 20 batters he’s faced this year. The only Baltimore pitcher to post a longer streak to open a season was right-hander Fred Holdsworth, who set down 24 in a row to begin his 1976 campaign.

Cano also notched his first big league save in his first opportunity.

“All the emotions kick in, but you’ve got to control it somehow, you’ve got to get ready to go out there and do the job,” Cano said via team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “The entire game’s on you at that point, so just got to control it.”

Control them, then let them out in celebratory ways when the moments call for it.

Cano didn’t start the ninth. Hyde kept in left-hander Danny Coulombe (who had worked a 1-2-3 eighth) to face left-handed-hitting Masataka Yoshida. Coulombe walked Yoshida, and pinch-runner Raimel Tapia advanced to second after Cano entered and immediately balked.

Then, Cano punched out Kiké Hernández, freezing him with an outside 95.3 mph sinker. Cano planted his legs wide and struck his post-strikeout pose, staring toward the plate and waiting to get the ball back so he could do it again.

And he did. Cano fanned Triston Casas, baffling him with a 90.5 mph changeup in the dirt, and then planted his feet firmly in the dirt of the mound.

“He's got presence, pitches with energy, pitches with emotion. And rightfully so,” Hyde said. “He's come a long way. To be up here in the big leagues doing what he's doing, I think it's fantastic.”

Finally, a Red Sox hitter put a ball in play against Cano. Jarren Duran connected on an outside 1-0 sinker and slapped it the opposite way toward third base -- but directly into the glove of Ramón Urías. That ball was later given to Cano, who plans to keep it in his house as a memento from a special night.

“The moment he hit it, I was super tensed up,” said Cano, who has struck out nine in seven perfect innings over six appearances since getting recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on April 14.

The emergence of Cano has seemingly come from nowhere. The Cuban didn’t begin his professional career until signing with the Twins as a 25-year-old in June 2019. He was among the four Minor League pitchers dealt from Minnesota to Baltimore at least year’s Trade Deadline in exchange for All-Star closer Jorge López.

Cano had three rough outings for the O’s late last season, recording an 18.69 ERA and a 3.23 WHIP. He continually struggled with his command, walking 16 in 18 big league innings in 2022.

Now, Cano has pinpoint control of both his sinker (which sits around 95 mph) and his wipeout changeup, which induced whiffs on both swings against it Monday night.

“Wherever I want the pitch to go, it’s going right there where I want it,” Cano said.

Almost like another towering right-hander at the back end of Baltimore’s bullpen -- albeit just a few inches shorter.

“He’s incredible. His stuff is unbelievable,” said right-hander Dean Kremer, who earned the win after allowing four runs on seven hits and one walk over 5 2/3 innings. “He throws mid-90s with a disgusting changeup. He’s basically Félix from shoulder height.”

When Hyde was asked to explain Cano’s tremendous turnaround from 2022 to ‘23, he didn’t have an exact reason for it. There might not be one. But the Orioles sure are happy it’s happening, giving them an additional high-leverage arm who could help power them to more success.

“I’d like to say that somebody came up with a certain drill or whatnot, but I don’t think so,” Hyde said. “I just think that he figured some things out. And some guys figure it out later than earlier. ... Good for us.”