Garrett Richards reported to spring training feeling secure he has a spot in the Los Angeles Angels pitching rotation.
Penciled in as the No. 3 starter behind veterans Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson, Richards can experiment with his off-speed pitches instead of competing to make the Opening Day roster.
“That's a huge accomplishment for me,” Richards said. “After bouncing back and forth (between Triple-A and the majors) two years ago, and then pitching in the bullpen the first half last season, I've made major strides. But in baseball you're always working on improving.”
A compensation first-round draft pick four years ago, the 25-year-old right-hander from OU has relied on a mid-90 mph fastball much of his career. This offseason he worked on his curve and change-up.
“I'm getting pretty comfortable with all four pitches,” Richards said. “I throw a two-seam change-up, which I try to mimic my two-seam fastball. That pitch has come a long way. The breaking ball has a much different look that should really help me.”
Last season, the Angels inserted Richards into the rotation soon after the All-Star break. Spending the entire season in the majors for the first time, Richards was 7-8 with a 4.18 ERA. In his final 13 starts, the Edmond Memorial product was 5-4 with a 3.60 ERA.
“When I broke with the team last year out of camp in the bullpen, that was unexpected,” Richards said. “Your preparation is different. You have to be ready any time the phone rings. Talking with veterans, I learned a routine. It was huge for me, eventually leading to my opportunity in the rotation.”
Richards proved in the minors he can win games. In roughly 400 career minor league innings, Richards compiled a 34-11 record with a 3.34 ERA.
After getting an $800,000 signing bonus, Richards methodically climbed through the organization. After spending 2010 at two Class A levels, he advanced to Double-A the following season. He made his major league debut during a September call-up.
Two years ago, Richards shuttled between Triple-A and the majors, logging around 75 innings at each level. Last season, he seized his long awaited opportunity.
“It's part of being a younger player, having to earn your way,” Richards said. “When I bounced back and forth there wasn't any room for me. That year we also had Ervin Santana and Dan Haren. It's kind of like a right of passage.”
Richards still makes his offseason home in Edmond, a startling contrast to Los Angeles, four times the population of the entire state of Oklahoma.