The Angels, in desperate need of young, effective and inexpensive starting pitchers, appear to have found one right in their own house.
Garrett Richards recovered from a shaky start Saturday night to blank Texas on two hits from the third through seventh innings and lead the Angels to an 8-3 victory over the Rangers in Angel Stadium, their 12thwin in 15 games.
The 25-year-old right-hander opened the season in the bullpen, made four starts in late April and went back to a relief role before replacing struggling right-hander Joe Blanton in the rotation in late July.
BOX SCORE: Angels 8, Texas 3
With Saturday night’s game, in which he allowed two runs — one earned — and six hits in seven innings, struck out five and walked one, Richards is 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in his last nine starts and appears to be solidifying a spot in the 2014 rotation.
“He’s definitely made a statement,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s pitching for the opportunity that’s in front of him and for this season. Tonight, he had command issues early, there were some things he wasn’t really crisp with … but he got back into counts, he had good action on his fastball, he used his breaking ball and pitched seven strong innings against a good offensive team.”
Richards, whose four-pitch repertoire is headed by a 96-mph fastball, has perplexed the Angels because his results don’t always match his stuff — that’s probably the main reason he has been unable to nail down a rotation spot both this season and last.
“I feel like this year, more than any other, I’ve made strides, moved in a positive direction,” said Richards, who struck out the side in the seventh inning. “I’m keeping it simple, trying to pound the bottom of strike zone, throw off-speed pitches for strikes and develop as a pitcher.”
What he’s not doing is looking too far ahead.
“I’ve been doing that for three years now,” Richards said. “At this point, I’m done worrying about next year. I’m going to take the innings they give me now, try to make the most of them and put us in a position to win. I’m not worried about anything else. Every fifth day I’m going to take the ball and go as long and as hard as I can.”
The Angels took advantage of three Texas errors to score four unearned runs in the first two innings, Mark Trumbo highlighting a three-run first with a two-run homer to center, his 31stof the season and second in two nights.
Luis Jimenez doubled and scored on Grant Green’s sacrifice fly for a 4-2 lead in the second, but the third baseman left the game in the seventh after injuring both thumbs, one when he was hit by a pitch and the other on a slide into the plate.
Erick Aybar led off the third with a double and scored on Chris Iannetta’s two-out single for a 5-2 lead. Green’s two-out, two-run double to left in the sixth scored Josh Hamilton and Iannetta, who had singled, and J.B. Shuck’s ensuing RBI double made it 8-2.
The Angels were 12-22 against left-handed starters going into Thursday, but they beat Tampa Bay left-hander David Price, the 2012 American Cy Young Award winner, Thursday night and Texas left-hander Derek Holland (9-8) Saturday.
“No doubt, when they make mistakes, we’re not missing them,” Scioscia said. “Left-handers have been an issue for us this year. It gives us a lot of confidence beating two of the best left-handers in the league.”
The Angels, out of playoff contention for more than a month, are playing some of their best baseball of the season, but Scioscia shot down the theory that, absent of expectations, the Angels are playing loose and carefree, with nothing to lose.
“I think we’re pitching,” Scioscia said. “I don’t think we’re pitching because these guys don’t feel they have anything to play for and there’s no expectations. We finally got some things in order in our rotation.
“You’re seeing the evolution of young pitcher like Garrett Richards, and you’re seeing guys in the bullpen with good arms like Michael Kohn, Ernesto Frieri and Dane De La Rosa starting to become a more cohesive unit. I don’t think it has anything to do with what the expectations are. It’s a function of us pitching better.”