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Angels pitcher Griffin Canning’s MRI reveals joint irritation in his elbow

Angels pitcher Griffin Canning throws a pitch against the White Sox.
Angels pitcher Griffin Canning is scheduled to undergo further testing to determine what’s causing him to experience soreness in his elbow.
(Victor Decolongon / Getty Images)

The Angels found out something about why Griffin Canning’s elbow is hurting, but nothing definitive, so manager Joe Maddon did the best he could to sum up the situation.

“It wasn’t devastatingly bad news in the moment,” Maddon said. “I’m just waiting to hear more.”

The Angels said an MRI examination had revealed “chronic changes to the UCL and acute joint irritation,” with a doctor’s visit scheduled Saturday and additional tests expected to determine the source of the irritation and a plan for treating it.

The UCL is the ligament that, when torn, generally requires Tommy John surgery. Canning said the MRI exam essentially showed he has “normal wear and tear” in his elbow. Even in the case of a short-term injury, he could start the season on the injured list, which would mark his third IL stint for elbow discomfort since last August.

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“There’s something going on in there,” Maddon said. “With some kind of treatment, he might be available to us relatively soon. When they conclude these tests, the conclusion may be, no, he’s going to be out for a long period of time.

“When you normally hear elbow, it’s either good, and it’s just a sprain, or it’s awful, and he’s out for a year and a half. They haven’t committed to either side yet.”

With Angels starter Griffin Canning’s health a question mark, Matt Andriese took the opportunity to pitch two scoreless innings in a loss to the San Diego Padres.

Canning said his elbow stiffened Wednesday, after his spring debut. He is anxious to learn exactly what is happening within his elbow, and why.

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“It would be nice to get the definitive thing,” he said.

The injury puts a damper on the beginning of a season in which the Angels hope to contend for their first playoff berth in six years. They acquired durable starters in Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran, but Canning has a higher ceiling than either one.

“Griffin is a very talented pitcher,” general manager Billy Eppler said. “He’s made an impact in a short period of time at the major league level.”

Available free-agent pitchers include Clay Buchholz, Andrew Cashner, Collin McHugh, Aaron Sanchez, Ervin Santana, who played for the Angels from 2005-12, and James Shields. Eppler said he was no more interested in signing a free-agent starter Friday than he was Thursday.

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He also said spring is “not a very popular time of year for trades.” Jeff Samardzija of the San Francisco Giants is reportedly available.

In the absence of Canning, the Angels’ rotation would start with Bundy, Teheran and Andrew Heaney. With Shohei Ohtani not expected to rejoin the rotation until May, candidates for the remaining spots include Matt Andriese, Jamie Barria, Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez and Dillon Peters.

“Listen, there are really nice candidates,” Maddon said, “but some of these kids, but when you have to rely on them too early, sometimes that is not what you want to do.”

No pitcher made 20 starts for the Angels last season; 19 pitchers made at least one.

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“Right now, if there’s just one or two situations, then that’s a little easier to deal with,” Eppler said. “When you start dealing with three or four situations, the ice gets pretty thin.”

Canning, 23, was selected by the Angels in the second round of the 2017 draft, a projected first-round pick whose stock fell, 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 as a rookie 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 Aug. 4, activated him to make two starts, and put him back on the injured list Aug. 23. He did not pitch again last season but said the injury had not impacted his off-season throwing program.

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“We’d love to get him back for this year,” Maddon said, “but I honestly don’t know how it’s going to play out.”


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