Richards: 'I know I still have good stuff'

Despite rocky debut, righty confident he's 'trending in the right direction'

March 1st, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If you were looking for evidence that free-agent acquisition is going to be the No. 3 starter the Red Sox need him to be and project him to be, Monday wasn't your day.

But a first Grapefruit League start with a new team isn't supposed to be the day for that. The true evaluation period for Richards should begin April 4 or so, when he starts a game that counts.

Spring Training is a time for Richards to get to know the Red Sox and vice versa.

In Monday's 5-3 loss to the Braves in the home opener at JetBlue Park, the hard-throwing righty labored in the first inning, throwing 23 pitches. In fact, the inning ended with one out and traffic all over the bases, as managers are now allowed to end innings in progress during Spring Training when a pitcher reaches the 20-pitch mark.

Fans did, however, get a chance to see some evidence of resolve from Richards. He went back out for the second inning and erased the Braves 1-2-3 on seven pitches.

"I think in the first inning I was getting a little mechanical, getting that first inning out of the gate," said Richards. "Got a little mechanical, wasn't staying as aggressive as I did in the second inning. As far as the first outing goes, I feel good. Healthy. Some good stuff came from today as well. Just kind of building, getting to the end of it and putting the product together."

In the 30-pitch outing, Richards allowed three hits and two runs while walking two and getting a strikeout. He will simply use it as a building block to his next turn later this week.

Now 32 years old, Richards has provided glimpses of what he can be, never more than in 2014 and '15 for the Angels, when he won 28 games over those two seasons.

But injuries took a serious toll for a few years after that, and the jury is still out on exactly what Richards will be.

"I'm going to be 33 in May," Richards said. "Time has kind of flown by relatively fast, but you know, one thing I have on my side is that I'm an older guy who has played in this game for a number of years but I don't have a lot of miles on my arm.

"I think I only have like 800 and something innings, so in the back of my mind, I've got to think I have less miles. So it must be better on the second half of my career. I'm doing everything I can to stay healthy and just go out and compete. I know I still have good stuff. I know I can still get outs, so it's just about keeping it simple and just competing."

Red Sox manager Alex Cora is intrigued to see what Richards can bring.

"This is a guy that throughout his career, his stuff, it always plays," Cora said. "Obviously he's been hurt, and I do believe last year it was actually perfect for him, right? Short season, he got his repetitions, his stuff was outstanding. We feel very good about him just taking off."

The "stuff" label has always followed Richards around, much like it has for fellow Red Sox rotation member Nathan Eovaldi.

In October 2018, Eovaldi showed the baseball world what happens when he has that stuff firing on all cylinders.

Perhaps Richards still has that in front of him.

"Very similar to Nate's career, as far as the injures and the potential," Cora said. "We're trying to help him out to take that next step. Stuff-wise, he's one of the best in the big leagues -- analytics-wise or with your eyes. Harnessing his stuff in the strike zone will be good for us, and that's what we're trying to accomplish."

It didn't happen Monday, but there's still quite a bit of time before it has to.

"By all means, I'm not happy about it," Richards said. "Today's outing is not what you're going to see from me on a regular basis. I'll tell you that right now. But getting out there for the first time and getting on a five-day schedule, just getting back into my routine. [The first inning] was frustrating, but that's part of it. This is Spring Training. I'm not going to make excuses for the way I played today, but things are definitely trending in the right direction."