Angels Manager Mike Scioscia couldn't have summed up Garrett Richards' potential any better Sunday when he said of the right-hander, "There are some things that could make him a good major league starter, and some things that could make him a good major league closer."
Richards, 25, has the stuff — a 95-mph fastball, slider, curve and changeup — to do both, but he is nowhere close to either, his limited role pushing the once-prized prospect into a state of limbo.
Richards opened the season as a key late-inning reliever, but Jered Weaver's broken left elbow forced Richards into the rotation for four starts April 13-30 in which he was 1-2 with a 5.54 earned-run average.
Richards, the 42nd overall pick in the 2009 draft, returned to the bullpen in May, but the emergence of hard-throwing right-handers Dane De La Rosa and Michael Kohn pushed him to sixth in the bullpen pecking order, behind Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen, De La Rosa and Kohn.
None of Richards' five July appearances, including his two scoreless innings Sunday, have come beyond the sixth inning, and four came in losses in which the Angels trailed by four runs or more when he entered.
Richards was 3-2 with a 4.42 ERA in a nine-start stretch June 5-Aug. 1, 2012, before spending the remainder of last season in a variety of relief roles. He is 2-4 with a 4.73 ERA in 33 games this season.
It would make sense for the Angels to send Richards to triple A now and stretch him out as a starter, giving the team a rotation option in August if Joe Blanton, who is 2-12 with a 5.53 ERA, continues to struggle.
An extended rotation stay, at Salt Lake or Anaheim, would also give the front office a better chance to determine whether Richards should be a legitimate rotation candidate for 2014.
But the Angels are hesitant to do that. Tommy Hanson (right forearm strain) will return Tuesday night against Minnesota and left-hander Jason Vargas (blood clot removed from armpit) is expected back in early August.
Neither will have the endurance to pitch deep into games right away. Richards could help bridge the gap between the two starters and the back of the bullpen.
"I'm hoping that scenario doesn't unfold, but Garrett, with his power arm, definitely could play in the middle of some games if we need it," Scioscia said. "We'll see how things develop."
Mike Trout singled in the ninth inning Sunday to extend his hitting streak to a career-long 13 games. … Though Jerome Williams has given up 21 earned runs and 26 hits in 13 innings of his last four starts, Scioscia said the right-hander pitched well enough Sunday to remain in the rotation. … Oakland starter Bartolo Colon extended his string of quality starts (six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer) to 13, improving to 10-1 with a 1.62 ERA in those games.