Managing perfectionist tendencies has confounded Angels rookie starter Griffin Canning as he has navigated the first three months of his major league career.
He has often found himself overthinking, and soon after he has watched his decision take a toll on his final line. The most recent occurrence was his briefest outing of the year, a 1 1/3-inning start two weeks ago when he walked six Houston Astros and gave up three runs.
In the fifth inning of Tuesday night’s 6-1 win over the Detroit Tigers at Angel Stadium, Canning could have done the same thing. He had just issued his first walk of the night after getting two outs. Two were on base. His pitch count, which had been a manageable 55 through four scoreless innings, teetered close to 80. But he shut the inner dialogue up and stuck to his plan. He threw Niko Goodrum a mix of fastballs and changeups and got him to line out on the seventh pitch to end the inning.
Canning stuck around a little longer on his way to his first six-inning start since late June. It was also the team’s first six-inning start Matt Harvey’s on July 18, the night before he was released. Canning struck out seven batters and gave up four hits to the same team he beat in May for his first career win.
“I don’t think people realize how much inner dialogue you have when you’re out there alone,” said Canning, who improved his ERA to 4.76. “And sometimes it’s not a good thing. So kind of just trying to find the balance of talking to yourself, knowing what you wanna do with each pitch but also just letting go of each pitch and moving onto the next one.”
Canning, with a fastball reaching 96 mph, did not allow a runner to reach second base until the fourth inning, when Miguel Cabrera stroked a leadoff double. Canning stranded him there, much like he did all six Tigers who reached against him.
The key was first-pitch strikes. Canning threw 16 of them to the 24 batters he faced. He traced his success on that front to improved fastball command, which he rediscovered by moving to the middle of the rubber.
“I didn’t put any bigger expectations on” this start, Canning said. “It was just kind of nice to see the work that I’ve been doing each week come to fruition and kind of see it happen. It’s not gonna always be like that but just something I can build off, for sure.”
Canning’s efforts were critical for an Angels team desperate for innings from its starters. They hadn’t even been able to use Canning in his previously scheduled turn in the rotation because he pitched the final innings of the Angels’ 16-inning game last week.
The Angels offense provided plenty of support on Tuesday. Rookie Matt Thaiss opened the scoring, his two-run homer in the second extending his modest hitting streak to five games. He added an RBI single in the seventh. Since starting his MLB career with an unsightly .111 average, Thaiss has gone eight for 17 with four home runs and eight RBIs.
“More plate appearances, more at-bats, more times I get to see different arms, things like that, the more comfortable I’m going to be,” he said.
Equally important were the multi-hit performances by Andrelton Simmons and Shohei Ohtani. Both scuffled in July. Simmons, in particular, had trouble collecting extra-base hits. He has been limited by the lingering soreness in his left ankle, which was severely sprained for more than a month.
He has exercised extra caution on hard-hit balls, leery of aggravating the injury.
“I just hit a period of the season where I wasn’t feeling good,” he said Monday.
Simmons appeared to snap out of it with a roped double to left-center that split the fielders in the second inning. He added an RBI double on a blooper to left in the fifth to extend the Angels’ lead to 4-0. Ohtani snapped his 0-for-9 skid with his 10th three-hit game of the season.
The trade deadline is Wednesday at 1 p.m. PDT. The Angels (56-54) are in the market for pitchers under contract at least through next season. If there is an acquisition, it might not be splashy. It might not even push them into this year’s playoff hunt.
A move could, however, reinforce the Angels’ mediocre rotation, which has struggled even more in the wake of Tyler Skaggs’ July 1 death. They entered Tuesday with a starters’ ERA of 5.32 this month, the 10th-highest mark in baseball during that span.
Canning’s start was a step in the right direction, but it will not absolve the Angels of the losses that slid them back to 5 1/2 games out of playoff position.
“We’re not gonna come out there and be perfect every single time,” Canning said. “We’re still putting in the work, trying to stay positive as we can, not getting down on ourselves for any reason.”