Angels' Garrett Richards moves big step closer to pitching in games

Angels pitcher Garrett Richards throws a simulated, 40-pitch game as he continues comeback from surgery

Garrett Richards threw to hitters in a two-inning, 40-pitch simulated game on Tuesday, the right-hander’s final significant step before pitching in a game.

Richards, who underwent surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in his left knee last August, went through fielding drills at near-full speed Monday. He will throw in the bullpen Thursday or Friday, and pitching coach Mike Butcher said it’s possible he could pitch in an exhibition game early next week.

“I’m sure that will be the next progression,” Butcher said. “The ball is coming out of his hand really well, with good life. He’s maintained his delivery throughout the whole process and he’s sticking his landing. There’s nothing guarded. That’s the biggest thing I’m looking for.”

The hard-throwing Richards was the team’s best pitcher last season, going 13-4 with a 2.61 earned-run average and 164 strikeouts in 168 2/3 innings before he got hurt while covering first base in Fenway Park.

As much as Richards would love to be ready by the April 6 season opener, he is not expected to return until mid-April at the earliest. And the Angels, who had a major league-best 98-64 record last season, would be happy with that.

“We have 162 games, we plan on being in a pennant race and being in the post-season, and we want to have Garrett for as much of that as we can,” General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Whether it’s opening day or shortly thereafter, we’re confident that’s going to happen.

“We’re not going to push it to get to opening day just to say we did it. We’re going to be more conservative than aggressive. But as you can see, he’s not that far behind the other guys. We have to make concessions to where he was last August.”

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