Whatever Garrett Richards had Friday, the Boston Red Sox hope he can bottle it and bring it with him to the regular season in a few weeks.
Richards finally flashed the potential that earned him a nice little $10 million contract with the Red Sox when he worked four very effective innings Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays. Richards held a Rays lineup with a handful of regulars scoreless over his four frames, striking out seven and walking three.
It was by far the best outing of the spring for the 32-year-old, who effectively had his first inning in a Red Sox uniform ended by a mercy rule back on March 1. In that start against the Braves, Richards logged a couple of innings, allowing two runs on three hits with two walks, constantly falling behind Atlanta hitters. His second start, on March 7, also came against the Braves and arguably was worse. Richards was tagged with four runs on three hits and an alarming four walks.
And while Richards still might not have had his sharpest stuff Friday against the Rays, the swing-and-miss was there with the seven punchouts. He now has 10 strikeouts in eight innings of work for the spring, an obvious indication of the movement he has on his pitches. That goes both ways, of course, as evidenced by the nine walks.
But if Richards can start harnessing the stuff (and stay healthy), he would end up looking like a bargain. Richards has logged just 131 1/3 innings over the last three seasons, which is obviously the biggest issue he’s had throughout his career. In that three-year run, he ranks 41st among all starters with at least 130 innings pitched with 9.53 strikeouts per nine innings. Conversely, only 19 of those pitchers are walking more batters per nine innings.
It’s a constant battle for Richards, who explained after his start Friday he’s trying to limit how big of a step back he takes with his left foot in his windup. When he steps too far, it throws his weight distribution out of whack and gets him going too much to the side in his windup. The goal, he said, is to keep his body upright — going north and south, as he said — to stay balanced and keep the ball in the strike zone longer and more often.
“In spring training, you’re working on stuff,” he told reporters. “It wasn’t necessarily there at the beginning of spring training, but we’re making some big strides in between with the work me and (pitching coach Dave Bush) are doing. â¦ Right now, it’s just matching up my mechanics with my timing and keeping my delivery simple. We put in some really good this week to get ready for this start, and I think it’s trending in the right direction, so I’m happy with that.”
The good news for Richards and the Red Sox is the right-hander doesn’t need to anchor the rotation. Or, let’s put that another way: If Richards indeed has to anchor the rotation in 2021, the Red Sox already have some major problems. But if he can effectively slot into the third or fourth spot in the rotation and help buy time until Chris Sale returns, Boston’s starting pitching will be markedly better than in 2020. That hurdle isn’t very difficult to clear, though.
Hopes of the former first-round pick becoming some sort of top-of-the-rotation arm are likely gone at this point in Richards’ career. Durability and consistency issues have derailed him off that path, and those problems are likely to keep him from getting back. But as a mid-rotation starter, who can help steal a series, Richards still has value as he flashed Friday.