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Control of his fastball gives Angels' Garrett Richards more weapons

SportsLos Angeles AngelsMajor League BaseballBaseballGarrett RichardsCarlos PenaHector Santiago

TEMPE, Ariz. — With a fastball he can dial up to 97 mph, a big overhand curve and a sharp-breaking slider, Garrett Richards has the kind of electric stuff to average at least one strikeout an inning. But the less the 25-year-old right-hander tries to blow pitches by hitters, the better he seems to do.

Richards threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 5-2 exhibition victory over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday, giving up three hits, walking three and striking out two. Of the 19 outs he recorded, 13 came on ground balls.

"Fastball command, a lot of ground balls, a lot of early contact — that's the kind of pitcher I am, and that's the mentality I'm going to take into the season," Richards said. "I started to focus on that in double A [in 2011]. When I started throwing a sinker and getting early contact, I got deeper into games and my game evolved."

Richards has struggled to master a changeup this spring, his inability to throw the pitch any slower than 90 mph — ace Jered Weaver would take that for his fastball in a heartbeat — preventing him from getting enough differential between the off-speed pitch and his fastball.

But an ability to give his fastball two looks, by cutting it and sinking it, has given Richards, who shuttled between the bullpen and rotation the last two seasons but is a rotation lock this season, enough weapons to be successful.

"My fastball is moving in two different planes," Richards said. "The situation may arise when I throw a changeup to a left-hander, but other than that, I'll stick with my three pitches."

Graceful exit

Veteran first baseman Carlos Pena followed his heart to Anaheim, signing a minor league deal with the Angels even though his position was firmly occupied by Pujols, who is in the third year of a 10-year, $240-million deal.

"It's hard to put into words," Pena said in February. "You just have this feeling, this hunch, that this is the right place."

It wasn't. Pena, 35, hit .139 with 14 strikeouts in 20 spring games and was released Sunday along with veteran catcher Yorvit Torrealba and infielder Chad Tracy. All three had opt-out clauses to become free agents if they weren't added to the 40-man roster by Sunday.

"It's always a tough time of spring, with the conversations going from guys who are going to be really excited to conversations like we had today," said Manager Mike Scioscia. "Chad, Carlos and Yorvit — they're pros, and they can still play. I'm sure they're going to find a fit somewhere."

Pena, who has 285 homers in 12 seasons, became less of a fit as Pujols showed he is sound enough to play first base regularly. But Pena, who exchanged hugs with numerous players and coaches before leaving, has no intention of retiring.

"I feel too good," he said. "That's not even an option right now."

Stain remover

Left-hander Hector Santiago came up with a new and peculiar way to cope with a rough outing Saturday.

After giving up six runs and five hits in five-plus innings of a triple-A game against Arizona in which his teammates made four errors behind him, Santiago drove straight from the Diamondbacks' field in Scottsdale, Ariz., to his home in Goodyear, Ariz., bypassing the Angels' complex in Tempe.

Santiago, whose next start will come in Dodger Stadium on Thursday night, pulled into his driveway, went to his backyard and "jumped into my swimming pool with my uniform on," he said. "I wanted to wash that game away."

Clean bill of health

Jose Alvarez, the left-hander acquired from Detroit for infielder Andrew Romine on Friday, joined the Angels on Sunday and set the record straight regarding Internet reports that he had shoulder surgery in 2012.

"That was the wrong news," Alvarez, 24, said. "That wasn't me."

Alvarez made 24 starts for double-A Jacksonville in 2012, going 6-9 with a 4.22 ERA, and he went 8-6 with a 2.80 ERA in 20 starts for triple-A Toledo in 2013. He is expected to open 2014 at triple-A Salt Lake.

"I've always been healthy," said Alvarez, who gave up three hits and struck out five in 3 1/3 scoreless innings of a triple-A game against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. "My arm is good."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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SportsLos Angeles AngelsMajor League BaseballBaseballGarrett RichardsCarlos PenaHector Santiago
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