Garrett Richards suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee and will undergo surgery Friday, a procedure that will sideline the Angels right-hander for six to nine months and could deal a severe blow to the team's pennant hopes.
If the Angels let it.
"Look, we can go in one of two directions," catcher Chris Iannetta said before Thursday night's 2-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox, which sealed the Angels' first four-game sweep in Fenway Park since 1962. "We can absorb the loss [of Richards] and play as hard as we can, though everyone else needs to step up some more.
"Or we could say, 'Hey, you know what? Spring training starts in five or six months; we'll see you then.' Which one is it going to be? I think everyone knows the answer. We have no choice but to keep going."
Richards, 26, the team's best starting pitcher, suffered the injury in the second inning Wednesday, when he caught a spike in the dirt while running to cover first base on a potential double-play ball and fell awkwardly to the ground.
Medical personnel tended to Richards for eight minutes before he was wheeled off the field on a stretcher. Richards flew to Los Angeles on Thursday morning, and an MRI test confirmed the injury, which could cause Richards to miss the start of 2015.
"Obviously, it's devastating news for Garrett," General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. "It's a very difficult pill to swallow. Our hearts go out to him, and we're all rooting for him. But we don't think it's going to affect his 2015 season. Garrett is young. He's in great shape. He should be OK."
But will the Angels? Veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc was recalled from triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday, and he will replace Richards in the rotation, his first start scheduled for Monday against Miami.
LeBlanc, 30, went 10-3 with a 4.00 earned-run average in 21 starts for Salt Lake and pitched particularly well in his last nine games, going 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA.
"The guys in the organization are very pleased with the way he's throwing," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got a chance to come here and shut a team down by mixing and matching and changing speeds."
He is no Richards, though. Richards went 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 168 2/3 innings, and his dominating stuff — 96-mph fastball, sharp-breaking slider, big overhand curve — would match up well with the best pitchers in the league, especially in the playoffs or a one-game wild-card playoff.
"You're never going to replace a guy like Garrett with one pitcher," Scioscia said. "But it doesn't mean we're not going to be able to reach our goal as a cumulative pitching staff."
Dipoto, who made one trade Thursday, acquiring infielder Gordon Beckham from the Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later or cash, said he is "open" to acquiring a starting pitcher, but that's difficult during the August waiver period and with the Angels having baseball's best record.
A National League pitcher such as New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon would have to pass through 28 teams, and an American League pitcher would have to pass through 13 teams before the Angels could claim him.
"We want to make ourselves better ... but picking up those household names, the top-of-the-rotation guys, that's not going to happen in August," Dipoto said. "We're realistic about what may be out there."
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