ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — After pitching out of trouble in the fourth inning, Griffin Canning worked a 1-2-3 fifth. He left the mound to an ovation and a congratulatory handshake from Angels manager Phil Nevin.
“You could see it on his face after that fifth,” Nevin said. “I told him, ‘Congrats. Welcome back.’”
An otherwise ordinary April weekday game was something special for Canning, who is finally all the way back from injury.
Canning pitched five innings of five-hit ball in his first big league appearance in nearly 22 months, and rookie Logan O’Hoppe drove in the tiebreaking run in Los Angeles’ 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday.
The game was a milestone in the rehabilitation odyssey of Canning, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since June 2, 2021. The Gold Glove-winning right-hander and Orange County native had a back injury that eventually scuttled the rest of the 2021 season and then kept him off the field entirely in 2022, with one setback after another piling up.
Though he had a spotlight firmly trained on him while a big group of his high school friends and family watched from the stands, Canning acknowledged no extra nerves.
“I’m prepared for this,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for the last year and a half to get ready for this moment. I felt ready, and just excited to get out there.”
Canning started with three innings of one-hit ball, but Washington got four consecutive hits to start the fourth. Joey Meneses had an RBI single before a run-scoring groundout by Luis García. Canning escaped the jam, though, and came through with a perfect fifth.
Canning didn’t really feel a sense of satisfaction about his comeback until after the game, when he met up with the family and friends who had steadfastly supported him through it all.
“That’s probably the most rewarding part,” he said. “Just seeing them, knowing they have my back and that they’re really rooting for me, too.”
Matt Moore (1-0) pitched the sixth, and José Quijada worked the ninth for his second save to cap four innings of one-hit relief from the Angels’ inconsistent bullpen.
Brett Phillips scored an early run, drove in another with a bases-loaded walk and stole a probable homer from Keibert Ruiz in center field during his eventful first start for the Angels, who took two of three from the Nationals.
Ruiz and Jeimer Candelario had two hits apiece for Washington, which went 3-4 on its road trip.
“We hit some balls good,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We hit some balls in the air. Ruiz hit a homer. Got robbed. We battled back, but we just couldn’t make it happen.”
MacKenzie Gore yielded four hits and four walks with six strikeouts for the Nats, his control issues forcing him out in the fourth inning.
Shohei Ohtani got a day off after pitching seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball Tuesday night. Mike Trout went 0 for 3 in Ohtani’s spot as the designated hitter, putting the three-time AL MVP in an 0-for-14 skid.
So the Angels got unlikely offense from Phillips, their journeyman fourth outfielder.
After drawing a walk in the third, he stole second before stealing third and quickly scoring on Ruiz’s throwing error. Phillips then drew a two-out walk with the bases loaded in the fourth to tie it.
“It means a lot to myself, (because) I’m playing behind some All-Stars,” Phillips said. “When it’s my turn to play, things can’t skip a beat. We’ve got the best lineup in the game.”
Phillips made a leaping catch on Ruiz’s drive at the wall in center to end the sixth, prompting Ruiz to spike his batting helmet in frustration.
O’Hoppe, the Angels’ promising rookie catcher, got his team-leading 11th RBI in the sixth, driving in Brandon Drury with his single off Mason Thompson (0-1).
Nationals: García returned from a four-game absence with hamstring tightness. He hadn’t played since leaving Washington’s game at Colorado last Friday.
Angels: Canning made enough progress this spring to earn a chance at the sixth rotation spot. The Halos don’t plan to use six starters as rigorously this season as they’ve done during Ohtani’s tenure, but Nevin said Canning will get another turn in the rotation during their road trip.
Nationals: After a day off, Trevor Williams (1-1, 4.35 ERA) makes his third start for his new team when Washington opens a five-game homestand against Cleveland.
Angels: After a day off, Patrick Sandoval (1-0, 1.64 ERA) takes the mound at Fenway Park on Friday night when they begin a seven-game road trip against the Red Sox and Yankees.
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