Richards opts to undergo Tommy John surgery

Righty to be free agent after this season

July 12th, 2018

ANAHEIM -- may have thrown his final pitch for the Angels.
The 30-year-old right-hander said Thursday that he has decided to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery to repair the damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. The surgery is expected to be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache on July 24. Richards, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, said he hopes to return to pitch in 2020.

Listen: Morning Lineup Podcast discusses Richards' decision to have surgery
"I'm disappointed, obviously, but this is something that I have to do," Richards said. "It's nothing that I haven't done before. I've obviously had some injuries in my career, and I've always come back just as good, if not better. I'm not discouraged. I'm just kind of getting my mind ready just to get back to rehabbing this thing and coming back strong."
Drafted by the Angels with the 42nd overall pick in 2009, Richards went 45-38 with a 3.54 ERA in parts of eight seasons in Anaheim, though he was limited to 28 starts over the last three years because of various arm injuries. He missed most of the '16 season with a partial UCL tear, though he avoided Tommy John surgery at the time by receiving a stem-cell injection in his elbow.
Richards returned to pitch last season, but he departed his first start with a nerve issue in his right biceps, an injury that sidelined him until September. He logged a 3.66 ERA over 16 starts this year before exiting his outing against the Mariners on Tuesday in the third inning with forearm irritation. An MRI performed Wednesday revealed the recurrence of UCL damage in his elbow. While Richards could have tried conservative treatment again, he decided that surgery was his best option.
"I kind of had made up my mind that if there was something going on related to my UCL, then this time around, I was going to get the surgery," Richards said. "Just move on. Just get the surgery and move forward, get back to the second half of my career, hopefully, and get back to doing what I do best."
Richards had sensed that something was amiss after he felt that his arm wasn't rebounding quite the same way over the last couple of weeks. The situation came to a head on Tuesday, when he was removed from his start during a third-inning at-bat against . Richards' final two fastballs were clocked at 92.2 and 92.8 mph, a notable drop from his 96.4 mph average this season.
"The ball was still coming out of my hand fine, and I was still able to pitch, obviously, but it just kind of progressively got worse," Richards said. "Obviously there towards the end, with my velo dropping and everything, you couldn't really hide it anymore. It sucks."
Richards said he doesn't regret opting for stem-cell therapy when he had the option to undergo Tommy John surgery two years ago. The alternative, non-surgical treatment has so far shown mixed results for the Angels, who have had a spate of UCL injuries in recent years.
and JC Ramirez also received stem-cell injections after their UCL injuries, but they, too, ultimately underwent surgery. received stem-cell and platelet-rich injections to treat his damaged UCL on June 7 and will be re-evaluated next week to determine if he'll return to pitch this season.
"I had a unique case," Richards said. "Mine wasn't tearing typically like everybody else's usually does. I had kind of a unique case to where we felt comfortable giving it a shot. I think that if somebody out there is going through the same thing, and they're advised from several doctors that they might have a decent chance at getting this thing back to playable shape, then why not?"
Richards would have been the Angels' most valuable trade chip at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but his injury will take a quality arm off the already-thin market for starting pitchers. It will also have obvious ramifications for his impending free agency. A healthy and effective season could have likely secured Richards a sizeable, multiyear contract, but his arm trouble will now complicate his market.
Richards should still draw his share of suitors, but he might have to settle for a two-year deal like the ones signed by Drew Smyly ($10 million), ($10 million) and ($4 million), who all spent a season rehabbing before returning to pitch in the final year of their deals.
"I think all that kind of comes into play," Richards said. "Obviously, you think about it. Just going in, getting it done, getting past it, coming back and knowing that this thing is repaired and ready to go. It's not only for peace of mind for me, but peace of mind for whoever wants me to play for [them] as well."
"I'll be back," he added. "I'll be ready. Don't worry. Everything will be fine, and I'll get through this. I'm positive about it. I'm not going to dwell on the negative stuff. That's all you can do. This is what was presented to me, and this is what I have to deal with. Just try and tackle it."
Worth noting
The Angels optioned to Class A Advanced Inland Empire on Thursday and activated left-hander off the disabled list to start the series finale against Seattle. Barria's next start wouldn't have been until after the All-Star break, and the Angels wanted to keep a full bullpen and bench as they head to Dodger Stadium for the final leg of the Freeway Series this weekend. Barria is expected to return to the Angels' rotation after the All-Star break.