You could sense the excitement in Garrett Richards' voice as the Angels right-hander, seven months into his rehabilitation from major left-knee surgery, discussed the five scoreless innings he threw in a triple-A game against Colorado on Saturday.
"When you're sidelined for so long, getting back to normalcy is really comforting, it's reassuring mentally for me," Richards said after allowing one hit, striking out five and walking one in his 69-pitch outing.
"When you get hurt, you initially have these questions running through your head. 'Am I going to be the same? How is this thing going to respond? Where am I going to be in my career?' But everything is really clicking. My leg is getting stronger every week."
Richards, who hasn't given up a run in 12 innings of an intrasquad and two minor league games, said he felt strong enough to throw nine innings Saturday. The last four days, he said, "have really been a turning point" in his recovery from surgery to repair a ruptured patellar tendon.
"Everything felt great today," said Richards, who went 13-4 with a 2.61 earned-run average last season. "Everything felt normal. I didn't feel any stiffness anywhere. I didn't feel sore anywhere.
"I was able to trust that leg and work over my front side. My breaking balls were sharp. My fastball was cutting and sinking. It was a great outing, and I'm going to build off it."
Richards will remain in Arizona after the Angels break camp Wednesday to pitch in a minor league game Thursday, increasing his workload to six innings and 90 pitches. He feels as if he'll be ready to return by mid-April, but he understands why the Angels don't want to rush him.
"This is something we want to do right the first time," Richards said. "We want to make sure this thing is ready to go when they put me in there, when the lights are on and the games mean something. I want to be 100%."
The Angels released Matt Lindstrom four days before they had to place him on their major league roster or pay him $100,000 to keep him in the minor leagues. It was the first time in the reliever's 14-year professional career that he'd been cut.
"I guess there's a first time for everything," said Lindstrom, who had an 11.12 ERA in 5 2/3 innings but seemed to regain his velocity and form after an injury-plagued 2014 with the Chicago White Sox.
"It's probably a numbers game. I'm healthy, I'm throwing hard, I still throw a lot of strikes. I was looking forward to maybe doing something here, but I understand how the game works."