One way for the Angels to minimize the loss of Garrett Richards — at least, in their minds — is to tell themselves that the hard-throwing right-hander, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, pitched only once every five days.
Richards is not a middle-of-the-order slugger like Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. No matter how dominating Richards could be, he watched four out of every five games. Yes, the Angels would miss him, but why should his loss kill their pennant hopes?
That rationale held up in the immediate aftermath of Richards' injury, as Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver pitched well enough to win or keep the Angels in the previous four games against Boston and Oakland.
Then Richards' rotation spot came up Monday night for the first time since he suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee in Fenway Park last Wednesday, and his absence could not have been felt more acutely.
Wade LeBlanc was rocked for six runs and seven hits in 3 1/3 innings of a 7-1 loss to the Miami Marlins, dropping the Angels into a first-place tie with the Athletics in the American League West.
The soft-tossing left-hander got the first crack at replacing Richards, who went 13-4 with a 2.61 earned-run average in 26 starts. It might be his last.
"Any time you're making decisions, you're looking at your options," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Right now, we want to get through tomorrow. We've been using a lot of pitching, and Wade's start was shorter than we hoped."
LeBlanc, 30, gave up one hit and no runs in the first two innings and three runs and three hits in each of the third and fourth. The six earned runs he gave up were more than Richards yielded in 24 1/3 innings of four starts this month.
"They did a good job of making adjustments from what they saw the first time through the order, and obviously, I didn't," LeBlanc said. "That's a good-hitting club over there, but I didn't give this team much of a chance."
The Angels can't afford to be patient with LeBlanc. They could summon Randy Wolf or Chris Volstad from triple A or Michael Roth from double A to replace him.
Or, they could look outside the organization for help. New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon and Houston right-hander Scott Feldman reportedly cleared waivers Monday and can be traded to any club.
But Colon does not appear to be a fit for the Angels because of his age (41) and his $11-million contract for 2015, and the two years and $18million left on Feldman's contract makes him less desirable.
Colon, who won the 2005 AL Cy Young Award pitching for the Angels, is 12-10 with a 3.82 ERA in 25 starts, striking out 130 and walking 22 in 1671/3 innings. Feldman is 7-9 with a 4.37 ERA in 23 starts.
The Angels could have gained an exclusive 48-hour negotiating window with the Mets had they claimed Colon, but they also could have been stuck with his hefty contract if the Mets let him go via a waiver claim.
The Angels have about $140 million in salary commitments to 10 players under contract for luxury tax purposes in 2015. Salaries for arbitration-eligible players and those with less than three years of big league service time could push that figure well past $170 million. Benefits add another $10 million or so.
If the Angels absorbed Colon's $11-million for 2015 or Feldman's $10-million average annual value, it would push them up against — or beyond — the $189-million luxury-tax threshold, which owner Arte Moreno prefers not to pass, and leave them virtually no flexibility to pursue a free-agent pitcher next winter.
If they can't find a capable in-house replacement for Richards, they might have no choice but to make a deal. LeBlanc would love another shot.
"If they think I'm the most qualified to give them another start," LeBlanc said, "I'll be more than grateful and work my butt off."