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Sunday, June 17, 2012
Pitchers are pouring it on

By Mark Saxon

When the season began, a lot of people liked the Los Angeles Angels' chances because they had one of the best five-man rotations in baseball.

It turns out, they were selling them a man short.

The Angels have six major league-caliber starting pitchers, which is only a problem in that they plan on sticking with the traditional five-man staff when their ace, Jered Weaver, gets back on a mound. Decision day comes next weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Not that Garrett Richards, 24, is going to grumble publicly if he's stashed away at Triple-A Salt Lake as depth for the next pitching crisis that arises. Only four major league teams have used the minimum of five starters this season, so the notion of a five-man rotation is a bit of a myth anyway.

Richards could be the sixth man of the year, the way things have been going.

"I feel that I'm ready to stick here and help these guys win," Richards said after allowing just four hits in eight scoreless innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday. "If I'm called upon, I'm going to go out there and give us the best chance to win a ballgame, bottom line. I'm just going to keep plugging away."

Besides, he was plugging away in Double-A until Aug. 9 of last season. At the time, he was trying to prove that a college pitcher with a 6.97 ERA was deserving of being a first-round draft pick and he was doing a pretty good job of it. He went 12-2 as one of Mike Trout's roommates in Arkansas.

If Richards is, indeed, headed back to the minors in the coming days, he'll leave behind a 2-0 record with an 0.86 ERA in his three starts for the Angels, all of which were wins. But don't think they won't do it. Six years ago, the Angels sent Weaver down even though he was 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA.

"As far as where we are with our top five, top six in the organization, we're very, very strong," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We've already seen it this year, the way Garrett's come up and pitched."

Angels starters lead the American League in ERA, innings, batting average against and shutouts.

And lately they've had to be virtually perfect. Since leaving the highlands of Colorado, the Angels have scored 11 runs in six games and won four of them. Their pitchers held Arizona scoreless for 21 straight innings, completed back-to-back shutouts for the second time this year and have held opponents to one run or less in three of the past four games.

Can it go on? Will it have to?

Speaking of the offense, Scioscia said, "We have to be better than that, and we are better than that."

Until they prove they are, it's nice that six pitchers have their back.