SEATTLE -- The Garrett Richards of 2012 or early 2013 may have been stressed by the situation he faced in the third inning Wednesday night -- two on, one out and the heart of the Seattle order, Robinson Cano and Justin Smoak, coming up.
The Richards of 2014 remained calm, inducing a weak grounder to first from Cano and, with runners on second and third, striking out Smoak with a nasty curve in the dirt, the highlight of a seven-inning, one-hit, six-strikeout, three-walk gem that led the Angels to a 2-0 victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
"With experience, I think the game has slowed down for me," said Richards, who is 2-0 with an 0.75 earned run average in his first two starts. "For me, it comes down to executing pitches. ... Confidence is huge. That's the best thing that helps young guys get used to playing at this level."
Richards spent his first year and half in the big leagues bouncing between the rotation and bullpen, pitching well enough to remain in the big leagues but never good enough to seize a rotation spot.
But when the Angels demoted struggling right-hander Joe Blanton from the rotation last August and gave Richards the ball, the 25-year-old solidified a starting spot for 2014 by going 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA in his last 13 starts.
"I think his confidence is high," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "There's definitely a presence you can see with Garrett. I think we've seen him grow the last couple years. It started last year. When he got back into the rotation, he felt very good about his stuff and where he was."
Richards could be dominant if his command and confidence match his stuff, which includes a 96-mph fastball, curve and slider. For now, his repertoire is playing pretty well.
"His stuff was moving all over the place," said Cano, who was hitless with a strikeout in four at-bats. "Most of his stuff was down. But when he struck me out in the first inning, it was straight, straight, then cut. You've got to give it to the guy. He pitched outstanding tonight."