Garrett Richards gave up one hit and struck out four in three scoreless innings of an intrasquad game on Wednesday, calling it a "big stepping-stone in the process of getting back to where I want to be."
The hard-throwing right-hander, who is recovering from left knee surgery, threw 44 pitches, 31 for strikes. His curveball and slider looked especially sharp in the second and third innings. The next step for Richards, who is expected to return to the rotation in mid-April, will be to throw in a minor league game on Monday.
"My knee felt great -- it held up nice," said Richards, who went 13-4 with a 2.61 earned-run average before tearing the patellar tendon in his knee while covering first base during a game at Fenway Park on Aug. 20.
"I was able to put the ball where I wanted to, work ahead of hitters and still keep my aggressiveness. … I feel like I can get into a major league game right now and compete for a few innings."
Richards fielded one comebacker cleanly but didn't have to cover first base in the intrasquad game. He worked on fielding practice after the outing. He did have to back up third base on a double but said he didn't think about the knee while doing so.
"It felt as natural as it ever has," Richards said. "Whether it be the adrenaline or the situation, I didn't even think about it whenever I was running."
Richards said part of his daily maintenance of the knee is "keeping the inflammation down so it moves more free and easy and makes my job easier." Such swelling, he said, is "totally normal with any limb you have surgery on. Icing and getting the proper recovery time is important."
Manager Mike Scioscia said Richards' arm is "where it should be." The bigger concern for the pitcher probably will be fielding his position. Opposing hitters will probably bunt more often on him, but Richards won't mind.
"I welcome all challenges," he said. "It's part of the game, right?"