It’s different now than it was last season, when right-hander Yennier Cano burst onto the scene and earned an All-Star nomination during his first full season as an Orioles reliever.

He threw 72 2/3 innings in 2023 — the most innings thrown of any Baltimore relief pitcher, and not far off from the major league lead. In each of those frames, two things occurred. One, he proved himself as an elite setup man, joining with right-hander Félix Bautista as an imposing late-game duo.

And, secondly, hitters got to know him.

Cano is no longer the unknown quantity of last season; his high-level sinker and change-up are on the scouting reports of every team in baseball, and there’s enough video now to allow batters to adjust against him.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

So he’s tweaking his arsenal slightly to ensure hitters remain off balance. Cano has made it a point to work on his four-seam fastball, and the 30-year-old has thrown it more frequently this season than ever before. In doing so, he hopes to stay one step ahead of his competition.

“They’ve made adjustments toward me, and now it’s my turn to make those sorts of changes,” Cano said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “If I continue just throwing my sinker all the time … it doesn’t matter how much it drops. If they know it’s coming, they’re going to be able to put a good swing on it.”

Cano made his mark in 2023 by throwing his sinker 55.3% of the time, and it’s still by far his best pitch. But Cano has reduced his sinker usage fractionally and increased his change-up usage to 35% this year (up from 27.7%) while keeping his slider around the same.

The four-seam fastball has come into play more regularly since May. Cano threw five four-seamers in April, just 2% of his four-pitch mix, but between May and his first June outing last week, Cano elevated his four-seam fastball usage to 12.1%.

The jump was especially noticeable against left-handed hitters.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Against lefties, my sinker obviously drops down and away from them, and the change-up as well,” Cano said. “Being able to throw a four-seam fastball as well just gives them a different look compared to the sinker and change-up. As we start to incorporate that, I think it’ll be a big help.”

Cano noted that his sinker and four-seam fastball have vastly different movement patterns yet come out of the same arm slot, creating what he hopes is a difficult pairing for hitters to contend with. The pitches, Cano said, have 9 inches of separation from when they leave his hand to where their movement takes them.

Since batters have a better understanding of what Cano brings to the mound, Cano’s season thus far hasn’t reached the dominance of last year. He has allowed four homers in 27 innings, the same number he conceded all last year. Cano has walked two fewer batters than 2023 despite pitching far fewer innings.

But with a 2.67 ERA, Cano is still one of Baltimore’s most trustworthy high-leverage arms. His sinker has much to do with that; he has a knack for forcing ground balls with runners on base.

His four-seam fastball, however, could bring Cano even further as he develops it more. It’s all part of the chess match between a more established pitcher and the hitters looking to gain an advantage.

“He’s been around long enough now that I think guys kind of know, it’s sinker-change-up with a little bit of slider,” said Mitch Plassmeyer, the Orioles’ assistant pitching coach. “So, just a little bit of a different look.”

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

More From The Banner