Garrett Richards had a lot to prove coming into Tuesday’s series opener vs. the Mets. After laboring through his last start vs. Toronto, the right-hander showed up to Citi Field a new pitcher.
In a 2-1 victory against the Mets, Richards appeared to be in total control of his entire arsenal, with a noticeable change in his delivery.
Ahead of the opener, manager Alex Cora mentioned that Richards had been working with pitching coach Dave Bush in between starts, making various mechanical adjustments.
“Me and Bushy over the last few days have really been working on simplifying my delivery to help me put myself in a better position to throw the baseball,” Richards said. “Before I was working a little bit side to side, which was throwing off my release point and causing me to kind of add extra effort in some places in my delivery that were throwing me off. So we kind of came up with something that would be simple for me to be able to repeat.”
Judging by Tuesday’s performance -- it appears the adjustments paid off.
Working through seven innings, the righty struck out 10 and walked none. His only blemish was a second-inning homer to Jeff McNeil, who he later got swinging on a 1-2 fastball to end the fourth.
"He's got nasty stuff,” McNeil said. “He pitched incredible today. They're tough to hit when they're on. … He's got plus stuff. He's got a four-seam fastball that cuts a lot. It's basically a cutter. It's tough. And his slider-curveball combination, they're plus pitches. His curveball is great and he was using it well, and was able to use that fastball up in the zone late. We kind of thought he was a guy who threw a lot of offspeed with two strikes, and he was throwing that fastball up. It made it tough to get to, and made uncomfortable at-bats for us."
The shift in Richards’ effectiveness was evident from the start, opening the game with a 1-2-3 inning that ended with a Pete Alonso strikeout. After needing 92 pitches to get through 4 2/3 vs. the Blue Jays, Richards threw 93 (70 for strikes) in Tuesday’s seven-inning effort.
“This is the guy we envision,” Cora said. “You know stuff wise, he’s one of the best in the league. And if he can repeat his delivery, stay under control, we know that he can do this every five days. He can be really good, give us a quality start and give us a chance to win. So we’ll build up from this one, get him ready for the next one and keep working on the things that he needs to work to keep getting better.”
Prior to Tuesday’s win, Cora noted that among the adjustments Richards was making, his slider was in need of attention. Hours later, Richards threw his slider for 20 pitches, generating 12 swings and six whiffs.
“I haven’t really had a feel for my slider since the season started until tonight,” Richards said. “And so, with the work that we’ve done in my delivery, it’s allowed me to get both my breaking pitches and my fastball back in the zone. And that’s kind of always what it’s ever been, just me being in the zone. I’m not necessarily a guy who spots the ball, but I am in the zone, my stuff is kind of moving all over the place.”
Coming off a 2020 season in which Boston’s staff posted the second-worst ERA (5.58) in the American League, its rotation was one of the club’s biggest question marks entering ‘21. Add in the loss of Chris Sale -- who is in Florida continuing his progression from Tommy John surgery -- and the effectiveness of the rotation was even more in doubt.
Fast forward nearly a month into this season, the Red Sox are sitting near the top of the AL with a 3.81 ERA (fifth-best).
“We like our pitching staff,” Cora said. “And one of the things we’ve been talking about, we’ve been walking a lot of people. But the last two games, with Eddie [Rodriguez] and Garrett, we attacked the strike zone, we got a lot of swing and misses and there was not a lot of traffic out there.”