Increased slider usage has helped Yennier Cano get back locked in for the O's

He has been so good for the Orioles bullpen this year, but there was a stretch a few weeks back when right-hander Yennier Cano was more hittable.

Heading into a series in late July with the New York Yankees, Cano went through a 10-game stretch where his ERA was 5.00 and opponents were batting .368 with an OPS of 1.000 against him.

It was then that Cano decided to tweak a pitch mix that mostly has been about two pitches – a two-seam sinking fastball and changeup – and make it now three.

“Think the biggest difference has been incorporating my slider,” he said yesterday with the help of O’s interpreter Brandon Quinones, talking about his recent strong pitching. “When they were hitting me better, I was going through some adjustments to incorporate my slider and then figured some of those things out. Now that I have a much better feel for it and have the slider more down pat, it’s more difficult for the hitters to get a read on me now that that pitch is in the repertoire.”

For the year, Cano is 1-2 with a 1.62 ERA and 0.984 WHIP in 57 games and 61 innings. 

When the Orioles played on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” on July 30, Cano pitched a scoreless inning with three strikeouts, throwing 17 pitches and using nine sliders.

In the Toronto series that ended last night, Cano threw 19 pitches Tuesday night and five were sliders and just one of 12 pitches were on Wednesday. But on that second night, knowing he could go to the pitch was enough for Cano to help his two best pitches work. Just the thought he could throw that slider helped him.

“It’s just added something else for the hitter to think about,” manager Brandon Hyde said Thursday about Cano’s recent increased slider usage. “You know with the sinker and changeup kind of on the same plane and sometimes they can morph together a little bit. Sometimes that changeup is thrown a little bit hard, and you throw a 97 mph sinker and a 92 mph changeup, you have the ability to put the bat on the baseball.

“The slider puts something in the hitter’s head where they were maybe not expecting it. Or at least they have that thought there is something to go side-to-side on them. The other direction. That has been a huge factor for him.”

In August, Cano has thrown 10 scoreless outings over 9 2/3 innings with one walk, 11 strikeouts and a .416 OPS against. This month he has lowered his season ERA from 1.93 to 1.62.

“And I give him a lot of credit, making that adjustment, mid-part of the year where he wanted to start using his slider more to keep guys off everything going to one side of the plate. Now he has something going in the other direction (away from right-handed batters). Been a huge factor for him, continuing to improve with it and really impressed by that,” said Hyde.

Cano said his confidence with the pitch has come far enough that he can use it at just about any time and not just as another put away pitch.

“I really try to vary it,” he said. “Whether it’s to start off a hitter, or a 1-1 or 2-2 count, I try to mix the looks that the hitters get. So they are not just looking for one pitch or one location, like an inside pitch. Now I can throw the slider away to give them different looks.”

Cano estimated he is using the pitch now about 20 percent and said there are outings where he used it more than his at-times devastating changeup. For the year, the stats say he throws his two-seamer 56 percent, changeup 27 percent, slider 14 percent and four-seamer three percent.

And while he gives up a .333 batting average on the slider, that is for the full year, and he feels he is throwing it so much better now. He is getting a 38.3 whiff rate on the pitch and now that is more in line with his changeup (39.7 percent whiff rate).

“Right now, with the slider I see hitters get out in front of it and their head goes out over the plate. As a result, when I do throw the sinker, they are not able to put a good swing on it and can look uncomfortable,” he said.

And now the O’s All-Stars at the back-end of their ‘pen, Cano and Félix Bautista, are still pitching some great ball as the team hits the home stretch. Cano feels they are the best 1-2 late-game punch in MLB.

“I sure do feel that way. I feel like about 90 percent of the time when the game gets to us, we do find a way to close it out and get the win. I do think we have a really good combination there," said Cano. 

Another AL East series win: The Orioles' 5-3 win over Toronto last night improved their record to 79-48 and keeps them two games ahead of Tampa Bay for the AL East lead while dropping third-place Toronto to 9.5 games out.

With 35 games to go, the AL East is pretty much a two-team race.

The O's beat Toronto right-hander Jose Berrios for the first time - he had been 10-0 against them - and Kyle Gibson's eight inning outing was the longest by a Baltimore starter this year.

The Birds are now 41-13 (.759) when they get a quality start and 16-1 (.941) when their starter goes seven innings or more.

They won the season series 10-3 versus Toronto and outscored them this year by 75-40. They went 3-0 at Rogers Centre and allowed 10 runs in a series in May. In June, in going 2-1 at Oriole Park, they gave up 11 runs. In a series that ended earlier this month, they went 3-1 in Canada and allowed 10 runs, and they gave up nine runs this series.

The O's are a season-best 31 games over .500 and have gone 9-0-2 in their past 11 division series. 

The Orioles are 25-13-3 in series for the year and 12-7-1 in home series. 

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