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Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Garrett Richards states his case

By Mark Saxon

Garrett Richards
Garrett Richards hopes to make a push to stay in the Angels' rotation once Jered Weaver returns from injury.

ANAHEIM -- One thing you've got to like about Garrett Richards these days: He doesn't sound like a young guy who's content to sip another cup of coffee in the major leagues.

He isn't hiding his desire to stick on the Angels' major-league roster, even after ace Jered Weaver comes off the disabled list, and would you want a pitcher to say he's just happy to be here for a week or two?

"I'm up here to help these guys win, but I'm also here to show people what I can do," Richards said. "I'm going to enjoy tonight, and tomorrow work starts again."

If Richards can replicate -- or even approach -- Tuesday night's effort in his next couple of starts, the question seems worth exploring: Is he a better option in the Angels' rotation than veteran Ervin Santana? Richards buzzed through seven innings Tuesday, using a heavy and lively fastball to hold the Seattle Mariners to four hits while picking up his first major-league win.

In the sixth inning, Richards was still throwing 95 mph. He walked two batters and struck out eight. The night before, pitching to the same lineup, Santana -- 2-7 with 5.33 ERA -- walked six and struck out one.

Unlike last season, when he made a wide-eyed debut at Yankee Stadium, Richards looks ready for his moment. He seemed as if he was cruising for the Angels' final rotation spot in spring training before Jerome Williams healed quickly from a strained hamstring and snatched it back.

Williams has been a model of consistency and has done nothing to lose his spot in the rotation. Santana, on the other hand, is riding a string of three bad outings and might actually give the Angels a valuable piece in the bullpen. Pitching in short bursts, he would gain a little life on his fastball and his lack of a reliable third pitch wouldn't be an issue. In three regular-season appearances as a reliever, Santana hasn't allowed a run.

All of this might be a bit premature. Richards has to pitch more than one good game to get back squarely on the Angels' radar and Weaver has to get on a bullpen mound before the team knows whether his balky lower back will allow him to come off the disabled list in about a week.

But Richards opened everyone's eyes a bit wider with Tuesday's performance.

"His arm is an arm that will light up a scout's gun," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

Richards, 24, debuted last Aug. 10 at Yankee Stadium, thrown into the fire because the Angels' pitching was beginning to fray because of injuries. In seven games, he was 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA. He admits now he was physically ready for the challenge but not mentally prepared.

Now, he seems not only to have gotten better command of his pitches, but to have gotten a better handle on his nerves.

"You know your mechanics, how to calm the game, how to slow the game down, how to pitch your game," Richards said. "That's one of the biggest things I learned from last year to now."

Figuring out the final piece of the rotation might have been tough in spring training, but it was nothing compared to the decision that might be looming.