In the opposing clubhouse before Thursday's game,
For the second game in a row, Richards had drawn one of the best pitchers in baseball as an opponent. Last week, he held his own against
It was a bad draw for Richards. But, Angels Manager
Richards on Thursday endured his worst outing since May 30 in a 6-4 loss to the Tigers. He gave up four runs and seven hits over six innings.
But despite the hiccup, Richards is gradually becoming as feared as some of the other aces around the league.
Before the game, Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus decided to keep Nick Castellanos, a right-handed hitter, in the lineup because, he said, right-handers actually fare better against the right-handed Richards.
Then to prove his claim, Ausmus looked up the specific numbers. He found them and laughed.
"Righties are hitting 10 points higher," he said, but not triumphantly. ".198 to .180. Splitting hairs."
Entering the game, opponents facing Richards were batting just .192, lowest among
"That's why he hasn't lost since May," Ausmus said before the Tigers snapped that streak.
On a conference call Thursday morning, Tigers General Manager
Torii Hunter, the Tigers' right fielder, played with Richards for two years in Anaheim. Richards was inconsistent then, Hunter said. But he would show flashes of his potential.
"You always knew that this guy was a monster and could be a monster," Hunter said. "And now he is."
Richards' maturation into a top-line starter could be a key to the Angels' playoff aspirations. The Angels trail the
But in a playoff series or perhaps a one-game playoff, the Angels need a starter to compete with the opposing team's best, such as Scherzer and Hernandez.
Until recently, Richards hadn't been matched up against many of those pitchers. He pitched well enough against the
Statistically, Richards has been one of the more dominant pitchers in the league. Even after the rocky outing, he is 11-3 with a 2.62 earned-run average and a 1.05 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched).
Scioscia said he saw signs of a breakthrough last season. Richards always had a lively arm and an overpowering fastball with movement. This year, his pitch velocity is up slightly, his command has improved and his slider has tightened.
That nearly led to a spot on the All-Star team. In the Angels' clubhouse, on the bottom shelf of Richards' locker, a T-shirt with "#VOTEGRICH" stenciled in red lies sprawled and half-folded, as if tossed there.
The shirt is a leftover from Richards' failed
Ausmus told visiting reporters the five pitchers from that vote would make a formidable rotation. Richards would be among the best of them.