NEW YORK - Orioles reliever Yennier Cano smiled through his entire media session Sunday after being chosen to the All-Star Game.
Sitting in front of a microphone shared with interpreter Brandon Quinones, he tried to convey what the news meant to him, how a pitcher who didn’t impress last year or break camp with the team in spring training emerged as a dominant setup man and endearing personality.
Earning an honor that he never dreamed about, let alone having it latch onto his reality. As crazy for him as it seemed to everyone else.
Cano handled a curveball question better than hitters can attack his sinker.
How did he turn into Superman?
Aquaman would make more sense with the daily storms at home and on the road, but Cano went along with it in the usual jovial manner. His head was in the clouds.
“Honestly, it just goes back to hard work and dedication. It’s not a secret that that’s what it takes, and especially given my age. But I think it’s just that, working hard,” he said.
“To tell you the truth, I knew that I could be very successful, but I never thought I’d make the All-Star Game. I think that I thought to myself that I’d have a very long career, a very good career in baseball, but I never thought about the All-Star Game once.”
Danny Coulombe never doubted that it was in Cano. They were teammates in Triple-A and with the Twins. The skills were undeniable.
The key was unlocking them.
“He always had the talent,” Coulombe said. “In Triple-A, he was 98-100 mph throwing over the top and sideways, so it was pretty dang impressive. And in the big leagues, he was in a situation where he was coming up and he’d throw two innings, 2 1/3, like a long guy. I also think that putting him in a position to succeed here, where it’s like, ‘Hey, you’re going to come in, you’re going to throw one inning, one-plus maybe, and you could face the top part of the order.’”
No matter where he landed in an opponent’s lineup, ditching the multiple arm slots led to greater success. The different looks were causing the same issues. Cano came to an organization with a growing reputation for making repairs.
Cano walked eight batters in 16 2/3 innings with Triple-A Norfolk after the Orioles acquired him from the Twins in the Jorge López trade. He had allowed 14 runs and walked 11 batters in 13 2/3 innings with Minnesota, appeared in three games with the Orioles and surrendered nine runs and nine hits with five walks in 4 1/3 innings.
Nothing to suggest All-Star status.
He stayed on the 40-man roster. He turned a corner.
He’s brought a new perspective to a trade that fans, and some media, blasted at the deadline.
Cano has registered a 1.32 ERA and 0.854 WHIP with six walks in 41 innings. Perhaps the least likely Orioles pitcher to go 20 games in a row to start the season without issuing a walk.
“Obviously, he made that arm change, where he’s just really so much more consistent with his slot,” Coulombe said. “He always had the stuff. It was just that he’d kind of spray the ball a little bit. So yeah, you always saw the talent. It was just about him getting confidence and knowing that he is that good.
“It’s hard to stay consistent when you have two different slots. So, going to one slot, being really consistent, it just made his changeup so much better and more consistent. And obviously, his sinker is one of the best pitches in the game.”
So good that it carried a run value of minus-15 that tied for fourth-best pitch in the majors yesterday, according to Statcast.
Assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes calls Cano’s improved command “the big thing.” It starts there.
The four runs allowed by Cano in seven innings in spring training were offset in the team’s evaluations by the zero walks issued and 10 strikeouts. But there was more work to be done.
“He went down, and we got his arm slot where it needs to stay,” Holmes said.
“He was kind of going up and then down. He was going north and south a lot, just trying to give different looks, and we got him down the lower arm slot, where he was the most consistent, and he’s held it the whole time. He’s even incorporated a really good slider, and his changeup is devastating. I think he’s done an incredible job.”
Always with a smile, except when he’s staring down batters. His positive attitude doesn’t crack.
“I think since I was very young, that’s something I’ve always had,” he said. “Obviously, a lot of different life events have happened and I’ve been able to rebound a lot quicker than normal, thanks to just the way I guess I’ve always been, and I think that’s definitely helped me a lot with my success in my baseball career so far.”
Closer Félix Bautista has the triple-digit fastball and grand entrances into games at Camden Yards, complete with flashing ballpark lights and hype video. Cano has the straddle and stare on the mound.
Has he always been this way?
“No, that’s new this year,” Coulombe said, laughing.
“I love it. It’s great. I never really saw that kind of thing in Triple-A. He would overpower guys, but he wasn’t dominant. You can just see he’s so much more confident in himself. It’s amazing how much confidence plays into success.”
Manager Brandon Hyde gathered his players on Sunday for a quick pep talk and to pass along the All-Star selections. Catcher Adley Rutschman heard his name first, followed by Bautista.
Hyde glanced around the room, pointed and yelled “Cano!”
The applause matched the recent weather – thunderous.
“Oh my goodness, so excited for him,” Coulombe said. “He’s got an amazing story. He’s a great guy, a great teammate. I was over the moon for him.”
“It was super unbelievable,” Holmes said. “I’m so happy for him because he has been a war horse for us. Just what he brings.
“He’s a great guy, he’s a great teammate, and he’s exactly what you want on a team.”