The Angels shut down Griffin Canning last summer because of elbow soreness. After his first appearance this spring, the elbow soreness has returned.
The Angels sent Canning for an MRI examination on Thursday, manager Joe Maddon said. Canning pitched two scoreless innings on Wednesday, but Maddon said Canning complained of discomfort after he came out of the game.
The Angels are counting on Canning to help stabilize the starting rotation, one year after none of their pitchers started even 20 games, and 19 pitchers started at least one. Maddon said he is concerned about Canning’s status, given the history of elbow trouble, and acknowledged a serious injury to Canning would roil the Angels’ rotation.
“I kind of like when he’s in it,” Maddon said. “I kind of like the thought of him being in it. It definitely would cause us to reconsider.”
Canning, 23, was selected by the Angels in the second round of the 2017 draft, a projected first-round pick whose stock had fallen in part because of concerns about his workload at UCLA. In his last season at UCLA, he made at least 100 pitches in each of his last 11 starts, including six starts of at least 120 pitches and one at 134 pitches.
The Angels have managed his workload carefully. In the summer they drafted him, they did not let him pitch at all. In his 28 minor league starts in 2018 and 2019, he never made more than 89 pitches, and he did not complete six innings until his final minor league start.
In 18 games with the Angels last season, Canning went 5-6 with a 4.58 earned-run average. The Angels put him on the injured list because of elbow inflammation on Aug. 4, activated him to make two starts, and put him back on the injured list on Aug. 23. He did not pitch again last season but said the injury had not impacted his off-season throwing program.
In the absence of Canning, the Angels’ rotation would be headed by Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran, with Matt Andriese, Jaime Barria, Felix Pena, Patrick Sandoval, and Jose Suarez among the candidates to fill the final two spots.
Angels owner Arte Moreno acknowledged last week that he killed a proposed trade in which the Angels would have acquired pitcher Ross Stripling from the Dodgers.
Shohei Ohtani, who did not pitch last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the rotation in May. Now the Angels must hope Canning is not headed for surgery.
Eighth-inning guy? Nope
Maddon said he did not intend to identify relievers targeted to pitch the seventh and eighth innings ahead of closer Hansel Robles.
“I’m into leverage moments more than I’m into seventh, eighth or ninth innings, outside of an established closer,” Maddon said. “If the seventh inning is better suited for this guy and the eighth inning for the other guy, I don’t want them used to just being in the seventh or the eighth.”
Maddon said he and the coaching staff would identify certain groupings of opposing hitters before each game and make sure a late-game reliever would know in advance which grouping he would be most likely to face. He said he believes that communication can overcome any grumblings from relievers that might suggest they could perform best if they had a defined role.
“Bullpen guys tend to be hypercritical,” Maddon said. “You just have to understand your audience. It’s just who they are sometimes. If you communicate honestly with them, they eventually deal with it well.”
Bald is beautiful
The team announced that Maddon would lead a “Balding All Angels” fundraiser March 9, with the manager and any agreeable players getting their heads shaved to raise money in support of pediatric cancer patients. Fans can donate $100 to get their heads shaved too, and get what the team called “a limited edition ‘Balding All Angels’ T-shirt.”