Notes: Richards eager for season's start

July 14th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- For 18 months, everything did was with one eye on spring 2020.

Following Tommy John surgery in August 2018, Richards began his recovery at the same time he was hitting free agency for the first time. He signed with the Padres for two years, hoping to pitch in '19 while understanding that his biggest impact wouldn't come until the second half of that contract.

Sure enough, spring 2020 rolled around and Richards was as eager for a baseball season as he'd ever been. Then the sport shut down for 3 1/2 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Richards was back on the sideline.

"I've had a lot of rest over the last couple years," Richards said. "I'm definitely ready to play. ... It was frustrating. You know you want to play, and all of the reward was starting to come back at that point."

Richards should finally get that long-awaited payoff next weekend when the Padres open their season with a four-game set against Arizona. He's a lock for the rotation and is currently the team's presumed No. 3 starter behind Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet.

In some ways, a 60-game season might suit Richards well, given that he's thrown only 147 1/3 innings over the past four seasons combined due to an assortment of injuries.

"I have one mentality when I'm on the mound, and that's that I'm going to go right at people," Richards said. "It's a very simple mindset, and I don't think that will change whether I only have 12 starts this year or if I would've had 32."

Said Padres manager Jayce Tingler: "The expectations are for him to go as hard as he can as long as he can."

Richards' pitching style has always been high-octane. His fastball velocity and curveball spin always rank among the highest in baseball. It served him well in eight seasons with the Angels in which he posted a 3.54 ERA, including a pair of dominant seasons in 2014 and '15. Then the injury bug bit.

Now, the 32-year-old Richards is adamant that he can get back to that level physically, and he’s impressed thus far in camp.

"I think the better years of my career are kind of ahead of me,” he said. “I've had a lot of time off with some unfortunate injuries, but I think my baseball mind has stayed growing over the years. I'm excited to put it all together now."

Three opt for free agency

Outfielder Juan Lagares and right-handers Seth Frankoff and Kyle Barraclough have opted for free agency after being left out of the Padres' 60-player pool. All three signed Minor League deals during the offseason and were invited to big league Spring Training. But none of the three factored into the Padres’ 2020 plans, prompting Tuesday's news.

The most noteworthy of the three opt-outs is Lagares, who could've been a factor in the team's outfield mix. The veteran center fielder was a steady defensive presence over seven seasons with the Mets. But the Padres have been so impressed with the performances of prospects Edward Olivares and Taylor Trammell that they were content to let Lagares walk.

It still seems likely that over the next few days, the Padres will look to add to their player pool, which currently sits at 53.

Worth noting

• Infielder Jorge Mateo, who tested positive for the coronavirus upon intake screening, is feeling better and no longer exhibiting symptoms, Tingler said. Mateo, who gave the team permission to divulge his diagnosis, remains in isolation, however. He needs to pass a set of protocols from the league, including two negative tests at least 24 hours apart and approval from physicians.

• Reliever Trey Wingenter, currently sidelined with inflammation in his right elbow, won't be re-evaluated until the weekend after a few extra days of rest prescribed by team doctors. Wingenter's Opening Day status was always in doubt. But the current timeline essentially makes it an impossibility that he cracks the season-opening roster.

• Wil Myers, the Padres' presumed starter in right field, went 3-for-3 with a pair of home runs in the team's intrasquad game Monday night. The Padres played the game at the University of San Diego, doing their best to mimic a road environment.