The surgically repaired left knee is fine. The velocity of his fastball, which sits about 96 mph, is there. The tight-spinning slider has plenty of bite, and the cut-fastball has a nice late break.
There are many physical similarities between the Garrett Richards of 2015 and the Richards of 2014, the right-hander who went 13-4 with a 2.61 earned-run average and 164 strikeouts in 168 2/3 innings before suffering a season-ending injury in August.
But something is askew. Something isn’t right. Richards has not been nearly as dominant as he was last season, and he’s looked eminently beatable over his last four starts, including Saturday night’s quick collapse in which he couldn’t get out of the first inning of an 8-2 loss to the New York Yankees.
“The number of pitches he’s throwing behind in the count are starting to catch up to him a little bit … and the walks are a little troubling,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He has to be cleaner, no doubt. Maybe he hasn’t been as locked in as when he got on a roll last year, but it’s still in there. He’s not off by that much.”
Richards felt fine coming out of the bullpen after pregame warmups Saturday. His delivery, he said, “felt as good as it’s been all year.” It didn’t show on the Yankee Stadium mound.
Richards was rocked for six earned runs and five hits in two-thirds of an inning, walking two and striking out one. The worst start of the right-hander’s career was the primary reason the Angels extended their losing streak to four and fell to .500.
Richards is 5-4 with a 4.14 ERA on the season, but he is 2-2 with a 7.91 ERA in his last four starts, allowing 17 earned runs and 28 hits, including four homers, striking out 12 and walking nine in 19 1/3 innings.
The walks are up slightly, the strikeouts are down, and Richards has given up as many homers this season — five — as he did in 2014. The latest was a two-run shot by Yankees catcher Brian McCann, who sent a laser screaming into the right-field seats to highlight the first inning Saturday.
“I’m going through a rough patch, but I’m not going to sit here and make excuses,” Richards said. “It’s baseball. This is the big leagues. Tonight was one of those nights.”
He had a similar night in Oakland on May 30, 2014, when he gave up five runs and five hits in two-thirds of an inning of a 9-5 loss. Richards called it “embarrassing,” but he used it as motivation and went 9-2 with a 1.94 ERA the rest of the way.
“I went on a tear after that,” Richards said. “I can’t hang my head on this. I know what I bring to the table.”
Richards’ trouble Saturday began when he walked Brett Gardner to lead off the first. Chase Headley singled, a sharp one-hopper that second baseman Johnny Giavotella couldn’t handle, and Alex Rodriguez walked to load the bases.
Mark Teixeira hit a sacrifice fly, Headley scored on a wild pitch, and McCann homered for a 4-0 lead. Carlos Beltran singled and took third on Didi Gregorius’ single to center, Gregorius taking second on the throw.
Stephen Drew grounded to first baseman Albert Pujols, who looked Beltran back to third but bypassed an easy out at first, electing to throw to second in an attempt to nail Gregorius, who was off the bag.
Gregorius was initially ruled out, but the call was overturned by replay, loading the bases. Ramon Flores struck out — that would have ended the inning had Pujols taken the out on Drew’s grounder — and Gardner laced a two-run single to right for a 6-0 lead, knocking Richards out of the game.
“He looked home, then to second, and he thought he had an out there,” Scioscia said of Pujols. “It was a reaction play. We just didn’t get it done.”