Pitching adjustment is paying off for Angels' C.J. Wilson

Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson is throwing more on a downward plane

An off-season of breaking down video, tinkering with his mechanics and stewing over a brutal end to a subpar 2014 season gave way to something different for Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson on Saturday: an actual baseball game.

"It was nice," Wilson said after throwing three sharp and pitch-efficient innings in the Angels' 8-7 Cactus League loss to the Oakland Athletics in Hohokam Park. "I've been looking forward to this all off-season."

Wilson had his worst year as a starting pitcher last season, going 13-10 with a 4.51 earned-run average, 151 strikeouts and 85 walks in 175 2/3 innings. He was pulled from his only playoff start after six batters and 23 pitches, giving up three runs and three hits in an 8-3 division series-clinching loss to Kansas City.

Wilson gave up one unearned run and two hits, struck out two and walked none Saturday. He worked ahead in counts and needed only 41 pitches to complete his outing. Wilson averaged 17.7 pitches per inning, third-most in the major leagues, in 2014.

"Low pitch counts are totally predicated on the hitting approach of the other team," Wilson said. "Today, they let me get a strike for the most part. The first pitch of the game was right down the middle. That set the tone that I was going to throw strikes. After that, they had to be a little more aggressive."

One adjustment Wilson made over the off-season was to be less "side to side" in his delivery and to throw on more of a downward plane. He felt an immediate difference Saturday.

"If you miss down over plate, that's more deceptive than missing off the plate by a foot on either side," Wilson said. "So if you miss down by a foot that's a better miss than to the side by a foot. So everything I've been working on in spring training is to stay down.

"Only go up when you're trying to. I missed two pitches up today when I wasn't trying to go up. Everything else was pretty much right where I wanted it."

Garrett Richards is progressing

Garrett Richards took another significant step in his return from left knee surgery, throwing 30 pitches during his first live batting practice session of the spring and saying he "felt great" afterward.

The hard-throwing right-hander, who ruptured his patellar tendon while covering first base on a potential double-play grounder on Aug. 20, will repeat the workout Tuesday with an increase to 40 pitches and a break in between to simulate two innings of work.

Richards, who was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 2014, has begun fielding drills, and he covered first base Saturday "with no hesitation," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "It wasn't full speed, but he got after it. He's picking up the intensity as we go."

Once Richards is able to play defense at full speed, he should be ready to pitch in a game. The Angels expect Richards to return by mid-April.

"Hopefully, he's seeing the light at the end of tunnel, but there are still some things we need to see from Garrett before we get him into a game," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think he's out of a full rehabilitation environment, and he's trying to get into a normal spring training."

Richards is wearing a compression sleeve on the knee, but he won't wear a bulky knee brace. He threw all of his pitches Saturday, showing good velocity of his fastball and decent command of his breaking balls.

"He threw me a couple of cut-fastballs that were like, 'Wooh!' " said outfielder Matt Joyce, who tracked pitches from the batter's box but did not swing against Richards. "I can see why they call him 'The Bullet.' "

Short hops

Former San Francisco 49ers and new Michigan football Coach Jim Harbaugh, a close friend of A's Manager Bob Melvin, spent the day in Oakland's camp and coached first base for the first three innings against the Angels.

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