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Garrett Richards looks sharp for four innings in Angels win, but biceps cramp stops him in fifth

It all seemed swell. In his first time on a major league mound in 11 months, Garrett Richards was dominating Oakland. A groundout to begin the bottom of the fifth inning made it 11 consecutive Athletics the Angels’ right-hander had retired Wednesday at the Oakland Coliseum.

And then it went awry, not terribly, but quickly. He lost command of a few breaking balls and his fastball velocity dipped. After Richards’ first pitch to Matt Joyce, Angels catcher Martin Maldonado jogged to the mound, asked the pitcher a question, and signaled to the dugout for a trainer to visit. Richards pointed to his arm and walked off the mound.

“It felt like somebody punched me in the arm,” he later said.

Postgame, the pain had waned. Per the initial diagnosis, Richards suffered only a biceps cramp, not a recurrence of the torn ulnar collateral ligament that forced him to miss most of 2016. The scare shrouded the Angels’ 5-0 victory over the Athletics, but the club said he was removed for precautionary purposes and could make his next scheduled start Tuesday at Angel Stadium.

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“Everything’s fine,” Richards said. “Everything moves on as planned.”

No one knew quite what to expect in Richards’ return, because he opted to repair the tear with a stem-cell injection rather than Tommy John surgery, the far more common course that requires a longer recovery. Steve Yoon, the doctor who performed the injection, said this week that Richards was healed based on the tests he has examined.

The last time Richards left a major league mound, last May Day in Texas, the Angels announced he was dehydrated. He played catch the next two days before the elbow injury was diagnosed.

Two scouts in attendance at the Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday each said they did not detect a significant deterioration in Richards’ pitches before his departure. They only saw him grab his arm above his elbow seconds before he left.

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Ninety minutes earlier, Richards took the mound firing 97-mph fastballs to Joyce, who singled. He then induced a groundout, struck out Ryon Healy and walked Khris Davis. Stephen Vogt chopped a ball back up the middle, and Andrelton Simmons ranged over to secure the out.

Richards settled from there, requiring only 14 pitches to strike out the side in the second, five to finish the third, and 18 in the fourth. To begin the fifth, Trevor Plouffe grounded out into the shift. Then Yonder Alonso and Marcus Semien singled on hanging sliders, Rajai Davis grounded out, Joyce approached the plate, and Maldonado approached the mound.

“It’s just something that flared up that inning,” Richards said. “It was a long inning, and I just kind of stiffened up a little bit. But, there’s no red flags to be worried about.”

Richards’ abbreviated final line demonstrated the type of efficiency the Angels hope to see this season from the man they need to be their ace. He threw 76 pitches in 42/3 innings, walked one, and struck out four, and allowed only the three singles.

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After he pitched in a triple-A game late last month, Richards said he was pitching at about 85% effort and declared his hope to maintain that level of exertion come Wednesday. He said he did that until his last five or six pitches, when he felt the cramp.

“I did today what I’ve been trying to do, and that’s fill up the zone,” Richards said. “I went right after guys and made them hit my pitch.”

Amid it all Wednesday, the Angels produced ample offense. In the second inning, C.J. Cron singled to center, Cameron Maybin worked a walk, Andrelton Simmons drilled a double to right, and Danny Espinosa blooped a single into left. That was good for three runs.

The Angels added a pair of runs in the fifth, when Yunel Escobar walked and Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols all singled.

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In relief of Richards, left-hander Jose Alvarez and right-handers J.C. Ramirez and Yusmeiro Petit completed the shutout effort.

The right-hander on whom the team’s season depends will remain in Oakland and travel back with the Angels after Thursday’s day game. He passed the team’s strength tests, and Manager Mike Scioscia said there are no plans for him to undergo an MRI.

pedro.moura@latimes.com

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Twitter: @pedromoura


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