Jered Weaver had a feeling Garrett Richards' national profile was about to grow on April 27, as the Angels prepared to face Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka in Yankee Stadium on ESPN's national Sunday night telecast.
“I told Garrett that all the hype will be on Tanaka tonight,” said Weaver, the Angels' ace, “but after this game, a lot of people are going to be talking about you.”
Richards battled Tanaka to a draw, both giving up two runs, Richards on three hits in seven innings and Tanaka on five hits in 61/3 innings.
Dozens of reporters from his native Oklahoma didn't start chronicling Richards' every move the way the Japanese media scrutinizes Tanaka, but as his wins mounted, his earned-run average dropped, and word spread of his 96-mph fastball and wipeout slider, Richards began to gain acclaim.
ESPN analyst Buster Olney wrote last week that Richards, in his first full season as a starter, “has quickly developed a reputation for having some of the most dominant stuff in the sport.” Richards, 26, also topped a list of baseball's “next wave of potential aces” on ESPN's website.
Richards gave up three runs or fewer in seven of his first eight starts; he gave up three runs before recording an out Monday. He limited batters to an American League-low .186 average in his first eight starts; the Astros hit .571 (eight for 14) against him in the first three innings Monday.
Richards struck out 54 batters in 52 innings of his first eight starts; he whiffed one in seven innings Monday, his record falling to 4-1 and his ERA jumping from 2.42 to 2.90.
Richards wasn't even the best Oklahoman on the mound. That honor went to Tulsa native Dallas Keuchel, the Astros left-hander who came within an out of throwing his second straight shutout, giving up two runs and five hits in 82/3 innings to improve to 5-2.
“They got me early on with some timely hitting,” Richards said. “I made some good pitches, and they were spitting on some good two-strike breaking balls. Those are usually pitches guys swing at, but tonight they laid off them.”
Jose Altuve doubled to open the game and took third when George Springer walked on a wild pitch. Richards tried to pick off Altuve at third — a play pitchers rarely attempt — but his throw sailed a good 15 feet wide of third baseman Luis Jimenez, who did not appear to be expecting it.
“It was just a miscommunication between me and Chris and Luis,” Richards said, referring to catcher Chris Iannetta. “The play was on, but I guess it wasn't on.”
Altuve scored on the error, and Springer took third. Dexter Fowler walked, and Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez hit run-scoring singles for a 3-0 lead before Chris Carter flied out on Richards' 25th pitch of the game.
Consecutive two-out singles by Altuve, Springer and Fowler in the second gave Houston a 4-0 lead. The Astros pushed it to 5-0 in the third when Castro's popup to shallow left-center dropped for a double and Carter hit an RBI single to center.
Richards blanked Houston on two hits from the fourth through seventh.
“Garrett had a tough time early on commanding counts and putting away guys,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He made adjustments as the game went on with his two-seam fastball, which was good to see, but the damage was obviously done.”