Garrett Richards delivers a pitch against the Texas Rangers last month… (Kirby Lee / US Presswire )
The Angels aren't expecting the second coming of Francisco Rodriguez, the 20-year-old phenom who was called up in September 2002 and was a dominant bullpen force during the team's World Series run.
But they think right-hander Garrett Richards could provide a significant boost to their playoff hopes and sagging relief corps, which is why they moved the hard-throwing 23-year-old to the bullpen after activating him from the disabled list Monday.
"His future is obviously as a starter," Manager Mike Scioscia said of Richards, who made two August starts for the Angels before suffering a right groin strain. "But this month, he could have more of an impact in the bullpen if his stuff plays as well as we think it will."
With Fernando Rodney and Hisanori Takahashi struggling, the list of relievers Scioscia trusts to hold late, narrow leads has been reduced to three: Jordan Walden, Scott Downs and Bobby Cassevah.
But with a 95-mph fastball, sharp slider and changeup, and experience as a closer at the University of Oklahoma, Richards could be a fourth option over the final four weeks if he pitches aggressively and throws strikes.
"The strike zone and the plate don't move — it's the same approach," said Richards, who spent most of this season at double-A Arkansas, where he was 12-2 with a 3.15 earned-run average.
"I have to throw strikes, keep the ball down and get ahead of hitters. It's going to be weird at first, but I'll be able to make the adjustments."
He may not have long. Scioscia doesn't plan to "ease" Richards into a relief role.
"In a perfect world, we'd love to say, 'Go out there, get loose and pitch,' " Scioscia said. "But we might not have that luxury."
The key for Richards will be throwing strikes. Tyler Chatwood's fastball is just as electric, but Scioscia won't consider the 21-year-old right-hander for a key relief role because Chatwood has walked 68 in 134 innings this season.
Richards has better control, having struck out 103 and walked 40 in 143 innings at Arkansas, and should be a better alternative entering the seventh inning of a close game with runners on.
"I'm just going to stick to what I do," Richards said, "attack hitters, keep the ball down and get ahead of guys."
Beginning with Monday night's game, the Angels' top three pitchers, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, were in line to start 15 of the Angels' final 22 games, assuming Weaver starts one of those games on short rest.
That could bode well for the Angels, who entered Monday with a 52-35 record in games started by their big three and 24-29 in games started by other pitchers.
"You really have everything in pencil now," Scioscia said. "There are some things we've mapped out, but you have to be flexible, so nothing is in pen yet."
The Angels will face an all too familiar and not too friendly foe Tuesday night in Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who threw a complete-game five-hitter in a 2-1 win over the Angels in Seattle on Wednesday.
But as dominant as the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner is, the right-hander has struggled to win in Angel Stadium, where he is 1-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 12 starts.