NEW YORK — There was one bright spot for the Angels in a 2-1 loss to the New York Yankees on Monday night. Garrett Richards gave up only two runs and seven hits in eight innings, striking out three and walking one, to solidify a rotation spot and give the pitching-deficient Angels some hope for the future.
The back of the rotation has been a black hole for most of the season, with Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jerome Williams failing to keep the Angels in enough games.
Blanton’s struggles got him demoted to the bullpen in late July, and Hanson, who missed five weeks over April and May on baseball’s bereavement and restricted lists, was demoted to triple-A Salt Lake after Monday night’s game.
But Richards, who moved from the bullpen to the rotation in late July, is 1-1 with a 2.42 earned-run average in four starts against Oakland, Toronto, Texas and New York.
Under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium on Monday night, the right-hander threw one of his best games in the big leagues, giving up Brett Gardner’s run-scoring single in the third and Curtis Granderson’s solo home run in the seventh.
Of his 101 pitches, 68 were strikes, and many of his fastballs hit 96 mph. Twice, he got Alex Rodriguez to ground into double plays.
“His ability to throw strikes is all it is,” catcher Chris Iannetta said. “His stuff is the same. It’s a matter of getting ahead in counts, staying ahead and staying down in the zone. The two times he got hurt tonight, on the RBI single and the homer, he was up in the zone. That’s the difference.”
Richards, 25, has above-average stuff and a nice four-pitch repertoire, but he has bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen for two years, never pitching well enough to hold a starting spot for long. Can extended success be a matter of confidence and experience?
“It’s a maturation process,” Iannetta said. “He’s getting used to his role in the big leagues, ironing out his mechanics. He’s done a lot of work to get to this point, and hopefully it continues. If he remains this consistent, he’ll be very good.”
With Hanson sent to Salt Lake, the Angels will go with a rotation of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Jason Vargas, Richards and Williams. If Richards can prove over the final seven weeks that he is worthy of a 2014 rotation spot, that will fill a huge void for a minimum salary.
“Hopefully, he’s maturing,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He was our best pitcher in spring training. He threw the ball better than anyone we had. In the bullpen, it helped him get his power stuff back in order. Now back in the rotation, as he’s getting lengthened out, you’re seeing his ability to command counts improve, and he’s having a lot of success.”
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