Canning Continuing Line Of Stellar Bruins Righthanders

LOS ANGELES—Under the direction of coach John Savage, UCLA has built an elite program based on pitching and defense. The lineage of Bruins’ aces includes first-rounders, such as Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and James Kaprielian, as well as elite college pitchers, such as Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig.

Friday, in the first game of the Dodger Stadium Classic, sophomore righthander Griffin Canning showed he might be the pitcher to continue the line. Facing No. 24 Mississippi State and potential first-rounder Dakota Hudson, Canning embraced the moment and delivered a gem. He carried a shutout in the ninth inning, ultimately settling for the victory, as No. 14 UCLA defeated Mississippi State, 2-1, at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

“It’s fun to be a part of because he knows what’s been here,” Savage said. “He knows the standards and he’s certainly a guy that could be living up to those throughout his UCLA career.”

Canning struck out a career-high 12 batters in 8 2/3 innings, holding the Bulldogs to one run on five hits and two walks. He was in command from the start, using his four-pitch arsenal to silence a talented lineup.

With the victory, Canning improved to 2-0, 1.74. He has struck out 26 batters and walked four in 20 2/3 innings this year. The Bruins are now 14-0 in Canning’s starts.

Canning said Friday was the best his stuff has been during his college career.

“It’s just one of those nights where everything’s kind of going my way, even the balls they’re squaring up finding guys in the field,” he said. “It definitely felt good.”

Canning threw his fastball 90-92 mph, and showed a good feel for his offspeed offerings. Savage said with all his pitches working and his ever-present pitchability, Canning was a dream to call pitches for.

“You can say it’s a plus change, you can say it’s the fastball command, you can say that curveball is pretty good, that slider can put away guys,” Savage said. “So, (he’s a) very good athlete, very competitive off the mound, really how you would draw a guy up, a college pitcher.

“I think he’s advanced in terms of his pitchability, and I think you saw it pretty much on display tonight. He can elevate the ball when he wants to, he can run the ball down when he wants to.”

While UCLA came away with the victory, the scouts who came to see Hudson (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K) were not disappointed. The righthander did not have his sharpest command Friday, but was never flustered and worked out of trouble. He ran his fastball up to 96 mph, and held his velocity throughout his 105-pitch outing. His cutter, which sat 89-90 mph, was an especially difficult pitch for the Bruins to handle.

“He kept his team in the game just as much as Canning did,” Savage said. “Those two guys are pretty good.”

Canning, a Freshman All-American last season, was making the first Friday night start of his career. Righthander Grant Dyer, UCLA’s Opening Day starter, was sidelined by an oblique injury, pushing Canning up a day. He said he didn’t approach the assignment any differently because the Bruins believe they have a rotation of No. 1 starters.

Canning’s mindset worked. The stands were packed with scouts, including several high-level decision makers, and a ranked opponent was in the visiting dugout. But he just calmly went about his business, controlling the game throughout the night.

Mississippi State did not get two baserunners in one inning until the sixth, when Canning gave up a pair of singles. But he struck out Nathaniel Lowe and Brent Rooker, the Bulldogs third and fourth hitters, to end the inning unscathed.

That mini-jam stood as Mississippi State’s biggest threat until the ninth inning, when pinch hitter Jake Mangum drew a one-out walk and moved up to second on a fielder’s choice. Infielder Ryan Gridley drove a double to left, scoring Mangum and ending Canning’s night.

Canning threw 135 pitches, making it one of the longer starts made by a UCLA pitcher not named Trevor Bauer in recent memory. Savage said he considered taking Canning out after eight innings, but felt comfortable allowing him to pitch so deep into the game because his inning-by-inning pitch counts were low.

Savage said he knew Canning wanted the opportunity to finish the game without asking. Canning wears No. 55, the same number Orel Hershiser wore during his playing career, a fact Savage said is not a coincidence.

“He wanted the ball, he’s a bulldog,” Savage said. “I mean, that’s why he wears 55. We all know who wore 55, we can figure that one out. The way he pitches, Orel’s his guy and that’s the guy he wants to look up to.”

Once Canning exited the game, the drama was only beginning, however. With a pair of lefthanded hitters coming up, Savage called on tall, hard-throwing righthander Tucker Forbes. But Forbes hit both batters to load the bases. With the tying run on third base, Savage turned to freshman closer Brian Gadsby, who ended the game with a three-pitch strikeout.

“I was pretty pumped up, everyone was,” Canning said. “That was really big for Brian. He’s a freshman, to get him into that situation and for him to do that, that was awesome to see.”

Gadsby’s appearance was the final piece of a stellar night of pitching in Westwood. That kind of performance has become the expectation at UCLA, and Canning appears to be more than ready to set the example for the next generation of Bruins pitchers.

“I would think, sitting back there, if you like pitching, that’s somebody you would want to watch and even if you’re a young pitcher, to take a look at,” Savage said. “There’s a lot of characteristics that I think any pitcher would want to have.”

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