It wasn’t perfect, but the results were secondary for Garrett Richards. The 28-year-old right-hander faced Major League hitters on Sunday for the first time since recovering from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, giving up three runs on four hits over two innings in the Angels’ 11-3 loss to the Reds at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Richards, who avoided Tommy John surgery by receiving a stem-cell injection in his elbow, said he’s still working to refine his fastball command and mechanics, but overall felt perfectly normal during the outing.
“There were a couple of counts where I fell behind and overthrew a couple pitches, but for the most part, the sinker was sinking, the cutter was cutting,” said Richards, whose fastball was clocked from 94-98 mph. “I threw some good sliders, some good curveballs. It’s something to build off of. But the most important thing was that I came out of it good.”
Richards struck out two and worked around a hit batsman to post a scoreless first, but he got into some trouble in the second. He gave up back-to-back singles to Dilson Herrera and Jesse Winker to start the inning before uncorking a wild pitch during an at-bat against Desmond Jennings. Richards retired Jennings on a fly ball to record the first out, but he then surrendered a two-run single to Tucker Barnhart. A basehit by Brandon Dixon brought in another run, but Richards managed to escape further damage by inducing a 4-6-3 double-play from Jose Peraza.
Few players will be as crucial to the Angels’ 2017 success as Richards, the club’s ace who made his final start of 2016 on May 1 due to elbow trouble. The loss of Richards and left-hander Andrew Heaney, who also tore his UCL last year, depleted the Angels’ rotation and played a significant role in their disappointing 88-loss season.
In an attempt to stay healthy, Richards said he hopes to become more efficient and not throw every pitch at max effort this year. He said he tried to compete at 85-percent intensity on Sunday, though he acknowledged that he likely exceeded that threshold at times.
“Sometimes you get excited,” Richards said. “That’s just part of being human. I have to do a good job of keeping myself under control. In my mind, I’m trying to go 85 percent. My body might not be going 85 percent.”
Sunday marked Richards’ first time on the mound since October, when he started three instructional league games as part of his rehab. Richards said that his experience there affirmed his confidence in the health of his right arm and in the stem-cell treatment that has now emerged as a promising alternative to ligament-reconstruction surgery for pitchers.
“After I threw in instructs and the ball came out of my hand the best that it’s ever come out of my hand, I got over the mental side of throwing a baseball,” Richards said. “For me right now, it’s just about recovering in between and having good work in my bullpens and just continuing to fine-tune my mechanics. I think if I can keep my mechanics in check and do everything at less effort, I know that’s going to help me in all areas moving forward.”
By Maria Guardado