The line wasn’t pretty this time. Angels starter Griffin Canning surrendered three home runs in his team’s 5-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on Sunday.
Canning’s outing started promisingly enough. Following a 2-hour, 42-minute rain delay, Canning retired the three batters in the first inning on 15 pitches. The brevity was impressive; Orioles starter John Means had spent nearly 20 minutes on the mound in the top of the frame, allowing three Angels to reach base without a hit before working out of the jam.
But Canning’s effectiveness ended there. He gave up a leadoff home run to Chris Davis in the second inning and a solo shot to Steve Wilkerson with one out. By the end of his third major league start, Canning had allowed four earned runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings. He had issued four walks, something he hadn’t done in one outing since his fifth professional start last year.
Yet as the rookie took his first major league loss in his third start and the Angels (19-21) failed to reach .500 for the first time since mid-April, Canning (1-1) could point to two positives:
-- He struck out six, increasing his season total to 19. Only two other pitchers in Angels history collected as many punch-outs in their first three starts: Shohei Ohtani in 2018 and Tim Fortugno in 1992.
-- Despite it still a work in progress, Canning’s changeup was effective. He threw it only 10 times but he got one swing-and-miss and one called strike on the pitch. The contact made against it was weak, until Dwight Smith Jr. punished one 416 feet for a two-run shot that extended the Orioles’ lead to 4-1 in the third inning.
“The home run to Smith was kind of one [changeup] that just straightened out,” Canning said, “but it’s getting a lot more consistent.”
“I don’t expect to have my stuff every single time,” he said.
But there is reason to believe Canning, the Angels’ most heralded pitching prospect in recent years, has the potential to be effective more often than not. Save for the handful of mistakes that contributed to his first loss, Canning is as good as advertised so far with the Angels. He has struck out 19, pitching true to the impressive 9.9 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate he had in 28 minor league starts. He pitched with the kind of mentality that manager Brad Ausmus referred to as tough to teach after Canning’s three-run, 4 1/3-inning debut on April 30. Until Sunday, he had suppressed home runs.
One of the reasons Canning didn’t join the big league roster until the end of April was that he had never thrown 90 pitches in a professional start. The Angels artificially got him to that threshold, sending him to their spring training complex in Arizona to pitch in a simulated game after making three starts at triple-A Salt Lake to begin the season.
Canning appears durable enough to get there. He hadn’t reached 90 pitches in either of his first two major league outings, but threw 101 pitches Sunday.
One day after turning 23 years old, he braved rain and unseasonable temperatures in the mid-50s. He willed himself to lock in and pitch into the fifth inning, aware that he needed to help preserve some of the arms in the Angels bullpen following Matt Harvey’s four-inning start Saturday.
Canning may not have pitched well enough to match Means, a rookie who has emerged as a pleasant surprise for the scuffling Orioles and limited the Angels to Mike Trout’s homer to center field despite never retiring the side in order during his six-inning outing. But Canning did enough to earn another start for the Angels when they return to Anaheim next week.
“He was fine,” Ausmus said. “The stuff seemed fine. It was just a few homers that hurt him.”