Ace’s feisty style a trib­ute to hero

Bru­ins’ Can­ning says com­pet­i­tive­ness was in­spired by Dodgers’ Her­shiser.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch

Grif­fin Can­ning’s pitch­ing de­meanor should come with a disclaimer: Any re­sem­blance to ac­tual per­sons, liv­ing or dead, is purely in­tended.

The UCLA ju­nior righthander doesn’t wear jersey No. 55 for sym­me­try’s sake. It’s a trib­ute to Orel Her­shiser, the for­mer Dodgers hero whom Can­ning tries to em­u­late with his get-it-done men­tal­ity on the mound.

“I’ve watched videos of him and I’ve heard sto­ries about him, the com­pet­i­tive­ness — and his nick­name was ‘The Bull­dog,’ ” Can­ning said, “so I def­i­nitely mod­eled my­self af­ter his com­pet­i­tive­ness.”

Of course, it’s eas­ier to be a blood­thirsty Bruin when you pos­sess a four-pitch reper­toire like Can­ning’s, which in­cludes a curve­ball, changeup and slider that com­ple­ment a fast­ball that typ­i­cally ranges from 92 to 94 mph. UCLA in­tends to rely on its double threat of an ace at 4 p.m. Fri­day when the Bru­ins (30-25) open an NCAA tour­na­ment base­ball re­gional against Texas (3722) at Long Beach State’s Blair Field. The game will be tele­vised by ESPN2.

Can­ning will be mak­ing his post­sea­son de­but af­ter hav­ing missed UCLA’s 2015

re­gional be­cause a stress frac­ture in his back. His ab­sence was a con­tribut­ing fac­tor in the Bru­ins’ de­feat.

“It was tough to watch,” Can­ning said, “es­pe­cially be­ing the No. 1 na­tional seed and los­ing in the re­gional to Mary­land. Since I missed out a lit­tle bit my fresh­man year, I’m def­i­nitely more ex­cited.”

Can­ning helped UCLA get back to the play­offs this sea­son af­ter the team failed to qual­ify in 2016, go­ing 7-3 with a 2.34 ERA and a ca­reer-high three shutouts. He’s is­sued only 30 walks in 1111⁄3 in­nings, and his 134 strike­outs rank fifth na­tion­ally.

“He’s a pitch maker and he’s a tougher matchup just be­cause he mixes [his pitches] so well,” UCLA coach John Sav­age said. “There’s not re­ally some­thing you can sit on. He’s a guy who can throw any pitch in any count and his stuff has re­ally jumped this year. His fast­ball is harder, his curve­ball is harder, his changeup is bet­ter and his slider is harder.”

Can­ning is among 25 semi­fi­nal­ists for the Golden Spikes Award given to the top player in col­lege base­ball, but not be­ing se­lected could have its ben­e­fits. It was Can­ning’s ex­clu­sion from Team USA ac­tiv­i­ties and the Area Code Games com­ing out of Santa Mar­garita High that helped fuel his edge.

“A lit­tle bit,” Can­ning ac­knowl­edged when asked if the snubs con­trib­uted to his feisti­ness. “I mean, you don’t look too much into that. You don’t want to be the best high school player in the na­tion, you want to be the best 23year-old, so it’s a con­stant process of get­ting bet­ter.”

Can­ning is widely pro­jected as a first-round pick in the June 12 ama­teur draft, but he’s in no hurry for his col­lege ca­reer to end. He’s the leader of a young team that played the en­tire sea­son with­out No. 2 pitcher Kyle Mol­nar, who un­der­went lig­a­ment re­place­ment surgery on his el­bow last year. The Bru­ins of­ten fea­ture five or six fresh­men in their lineup and are ex­pected to get back fresh­man in­fielder Kyle Cuel­lar, who was hit­ting a teamhigh .327 be­fore be­ing side­lined the last few weeks be­cause of mononu­cle­o­sis.

The four-team, dou­blee­l­im­i­na­tion re­gional in which UCLA is par­tic­i­pat­ing could be dubbed the Fa­mil­iar­ity Bracket. The Bru­ins have played Texas three times (go­ing 0-3), Long Beach State twice (go­ing 2-0) and San Diego State twice (go­ing 0-2). Top-seeded Long Beach State (37-17-1) will face fourth­seeded San Diego State (4119) at 8:30 p.m. in Fri­day’s other game at Blair Field.

Can­ning did not re­ceive a de­ci­sion dur­ing UCLA’s 5-4 loss to Texas on March 10. He gave up six hits and three runs in seven in­nings — strik­ing out four and is­su­ing a sea­son-high four walks — dur­ing a game in which the Bru­ins’ bullpen fal­tered.

“Texas is a pow­er­house in base­ball,” Can­ning said, “so you kind of know who you’re get­ting.”

So do the Longhorns. If Can­ning is his usual com­posed, dom­i­nant self, it could be Texas toast.

Vic­tor De­co­lon­gon Getty Images

UCLA PITCHER Grif­fin Can­ning, fac­ing cam­era, missed the 2015 re­gional be­cause of a back in­jury. UCLA’s loss to Mary­land was “tough to watch,” he said.

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