"I didn't think about anything but competing today," the
"Coming into the game, I was totally prepared. I'm done with rehab. I'm ready to go. That chapter of my career is over with. Now, it's about winning ballgames."
Richards did not win a ballgame Sunday, but the hard-throwing right-hander showed the kind of stuff and tenacity that should win plenty of them.
He was a little too amped early, and he struggled at times with his command while giving up four runs — three earned — and five hits, three of them infield singles, in five innings. He struck out four and walked four. Of his 100 pitches, 60 were strikes.
But Richards' fastball, which sat in the 94-95-mph range, was lively — maybe even too lively at times — and he showed a sharp-breaking slider. He looked physically sound while pitching and fielding his position.
And he even shared a laugh with first baseman
It was on a similar play last Aug. 20 that Richards caught a spike in the dirt, fell awkwardly to the ground and ruptured his left patellar tendon, a gruesome injury that cut short a season in which Richards went 13-4 with a 2.61 earned-run average and was in contention for the
"He said he wanted to make sure my legs were good," Richards said. "Breaking off the mound felt fine, and I had to do it quite a few times today. The knee felt great. The arm felt good. … I feel like I can do what I want to do on a baseball field. I haven't had that feeling in eight months or so."
Richards sandwiched a pair of walks around an error by third baseman
His fastball was cutting so much that two or three pitches that were actually in the strike zone were called balls because
"He's not an easy catch, by any means," Butera said. "A guy who throws that hard who has movement both ways with his fastball definitely has your attention span full-bore the whole game."
Richards escaped the jam by striking out
"You can mentally prepare yourself to come back to this game all you want, but as soon as you step on the mound after being out for that long, you have to find a way to get your emotions under control and find a way to execute pitches," Richards said. "After that first inning, I felt a lot better."
Richards gave up a two-run homer to Luis Valbuena in the third and retired the side on four pitches in the fourth. But he gave up two runs in the fifth, a two-out rally sparked by
Lowrie swung and missed at a slider in the dirt for strike three, but the ball bounced away from Butera and toward the first-base dugout.
Butera's throw squirted out of Pujols' glove as Lowrie ran into the first baseman and caromed into foul territory, allowing Springer to score and Gattis to take third. Castro followed with a run-scoring infield single for a 4-2 lead.
"Obviously, I have some things I have to tighten up as far as the walks go, but it wasn't a terrible first outing," Richards said. "I can't nibble. I have to go right after guys, like I did last year. Trust my stuff, fill up the zone. Those things will come."