Cano becoming new source of relief for O's

April 19th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jake Rill’s Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

WASHINGTON -- Entering the bottom of the eighth inning and needing to protect a 1-0 lead on Tuesday night, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde turned to his newest high-leverage relief option: .

This type of usage for Cano is a recent development, considering the 29-year-old didn’t break camp with Baltimore out of Spring Training and opened the season at Triple-A Norfolk before getting called up Friday. Yet, Hyde is already trusting the right-hander in the late stages of tight games.

“It’s hard not to,” Hyde said. “He’s throwing bowling balls up there and so I’m going to take my chances.”

Here are the situations in which Hyde has deployed Cano thus far, along with the results:

Friday: The Orioles led, 4-3, in the seventh vs. the White Sox, who had runners on first and second with one out. Cano entered and got Luis Robert to ground into an inning-ending double play. Cano came back out and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, which included a strikeout of Eloy Jiménez.

Saturday: In a game tied at 5, Cano was tasked with pitching the bottom of the ninth in Chicago. He sent the game to extras with a 1-2-3 inning, punching out both Robert and Jiménez in the process.

Tuesday: Baltimore had a 1-0 lead over Washington heading to the eighth. Cano delivered another perfect inning and notched another strikeout, fanning Lane Thomas.

Ten batters faced over a span of five days, all 10 retired by Cano, who has thrown a whopping 31 of his 45 pitches for strikes, including seven of his nine on Tuesday night.

“That first outing, it was in a tough spot, and it’s probably the biggest game I’ve been in,” Cano said via O’s team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “So to get that, it gives me confidence knowing that I’m able to throw strikes, I’m able to go out there and do my job, and give confidence to not only me, but my teammates and the manager.”

Last Aug. 2, Cano was among the four pitchers traded from the Twins to the Orioles in the deal that sent All-Star righty Jorge López to Minnesota. At that time, Cano had only 10 games of MLB experience and little big league success, having posted a 9.22 ERA and allowing at least one run in six of those appearances.

Cano’s first opportunities with Baltimore didn’t go better. In three games late last year, he allowed nine earned runs in 4 1/3 innings for an 18.69 ERA.

It was a “disaster season,” as Cano puts it. But after years of hard work -- which included not beginning his Minor League career until he was 25 in 2019, when he signed with the Twins out of Cuba -- he kept a positive mindset regarding his chance to prove himself to the O’s.

“You find new life and it’s a new opportunity and you kind of embrace it, in a sense,” Cano said. “It was difficult last year, but it’s been uphill since then.”

With a three-pitch mix, featuring a sinker, slider and changeup, Cano has long had the stuff to develop into a strong big league reliever. He believes the reasons for his recent improved results include fixing his previous command issues and being more locked in -- focusing less on the score and the game situation and more on his plan of attack against hitters.

The Orioles have been testing out setup options to pitch in front of closer . They’ve been without right-handers (left knee inflammation) and (right elbow flexor strain) all season, and lefty  has been a bit inconsistent early (4.70 ERA in eight outings).

Cano is proving Baltimore can count on him to continue facing tough hitters in big spots.

“They haven’t taken good swings off him yet,” Hyde said, “and so, hopefully he can keep it going for a while.”