He’s barely 23 years old, a freshly minted major league starter.
But Griffin Canning, the Angels’ most heralded pitching prospect in recent years and a product of Santa Margarita High and UCLA, took the Angel Stadium mound for the second time since making his debut here almost three weeks ago and dazzled. Again.
Only this time, instead of allowing a home run to taint his outing like it did a couple of times before, Canning held his opponent scoreless Saturday.
He struck out five and relinquished only three hits over seven innings in the Angels’ 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals.
“Just not being super tentative, just kind of letting my stuff work in the zone,” Canning said. I threw first pitch strikes, had fastball command.”
Canning had never logged more than six innings in a professional setting. He came close once in the first 32 starts of his professional career, throwing a career-high six innings the last time he pitched at triple-A Salt Lake in April.
He tackled the challenge with ease. His mid-90s fastball retained velocity before beginning to plateau around 93 mph in his final two innings of work.
He toted a perfect game into the fifth inning, striking out three as he relied on mostly weak contact to evade trouble.
With the help of his improved changeup, Canning didn’t allow a baserunner until he walked Alex Gordon to start the fifth. He then allowed a sharply hit single to center field on his 60th pitch of the night. Canning, who threw 60 of 93 pitches for strikes, didn’t let the inning spiral. He got three straight outs to escape the jam.
“When I get into those situations, I’m just trying to take it one pitch at a time, just worrying about executing that pitch and moving on to the next one,” Canning said. “Just not trying to get out of the inning, exactly, but just worrying about the next pitch.”
In limiting the Royals to six baserunners, he used both of his breaking balls to tie up hitters. He drew six swings-and-misses on his 89 mph slider and four on his low-80s curveball. In all, he saw batters whiff at 16 of his pitches.
“Two things [he’s improved]: The strike throwing ability and the use of all his pitches, including his changeup,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said of Canning. “That’s the best we’ve seen his changeup since we called him up.
“We know the slider is the best breaking ball and he uses the curveball quite a bit, but we haven’t seen the changeup, especially in tough counts. Not only to be effective with it but get that many swings and misses.”
Resounding blasts by Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani powered the Angels’ offense.
Trout hit the second-longest home run of his career, at least since MLB’s Statcast system began tracking distances in 2015, when he launched a 473-foot solo shot into the far-right corner of the Angels’ bullpen in the first inning. It was his 250th career homer.
“I didn’t really see it land,” Ausmus said.
“As soon as he hit I knew it was gone, so I stopped watching.”
Ohtani sent Royals starter Jakob Junis’ 77th pitch into the right-field stands for a two-run homer in the sixth. It was his second home run since returning from the injured list May 7, and his first at home.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy drove in the Angels’ fifth run on a two-out, line-drive double to left.
After Angels reliever Taylor Cole allowed three runs in one-third of an inning, rookie Ty Buttrey stopped the Royals' eighth-inning rally and collected a five-out save. The Angels improved to 22-23 and lifted Canning to his second win.
Canning’s 25 strikeouts through four games are the second-most in Angels history behind two-way player Ohtani, who struck out 26 in his first four starts last year.
“All I can say is he’s been excellent so far,” Ohtani said through interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. “He can command all his pitches. Even if he leaves some pitches over the plate, he can get away with it because he has the good stuff.