Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Garrett Richards is the clear ace of his team when he’s healthy.
As he proved in 2014 and 2015, the 6’3” right-hander can even rank among the top American League arms.
In 2014, he posted a 13-4 record with a 2.61 ERA. In 168.2 innings pitched, he allowed just 124 hits and struck out 164 batters in the process. In 2015, he went 15-12 with a 3.65 ERA while hurling a career-high 207.1 innings.
However, he caught the injury bug after that point.
He missed most of the 2016 season with a partially torn ACL in his pitching elbow, but opted for stem cell therapy instead of Tommy John surgery. He was then limited to six starts due to nerve irritation in his right biceps in 2017.
This season, he was off to a solid start, posting a 5-4 record with a 3.66 ERA over 76.1 innings pitched. He also found his strikeout groove, as he punched out 87 batters in that span. Based on LA’s position in the standings, he was expected to be a hot target before the trade deadline.
But, that won’t happen now.
On Thursday, the Angels learned that Richards will undergo Tommy John surgery for a damaged UCL that he suffered in the third inning of his start on Tuesday.
As a result, he will miss the rest of this season and most likely all of next year as well due to the lengthy recovery process that's associated with the procedure.
"I'm very disappointed for him," general manager Billy Eppler said, per Maria Guardado of MLB.com. "Disappointed for the rest of the players in that locker room too that have wanted to see him be our ace, which he's shown at times but hasn't been able to show as much as he's wanted to and as much as we would take. I feel bad for him. I went and sat with him for a few innings last night just to be somebody there to talk to him. But yeah, this is a cross to bear. I know Garrett. I know Garrett's outlook, and I know the drive within him, so he'll get through it.”
Richards is shockingly the sixth Angels pitcher to sustain a UCL injury this season, joining JC Ramirez, Blake Wood, Keynan Middleton, Shohei Ohtani and John Lamb. That suggests that something may be wrong with the team’s workout and/or training protocols.
But, the team denies that premise.
"We have not found a correlation," Eppler refuted. "In some of the instances, we've had players that have come into this organization from other organizations that have had pre-existing UCL conditions. Generally, when you have pre-existing conditions, those can resurface. In other scenarios, we've had young players that have had tremendous velocity spike. When players encounter a velocity spike like that, it creates additional valgus load, which is the load put on your elbow while throwing. While velocity is a good thing, and the number one predictor of success, it's also a contributor to injury. Darned if you do, darned if you don’t."
Overall, Richards promised to return strong.
"I'll be back. I'll be ready. Everything will be fine. I'll get through this. I'm going to be positive about this. I'm not going to dwell on the negative stuff. This is what was presented to me, and this is what I've got to deal with. Just try and tackle it,” he told JP Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group.
However, when he returns, he might not be an Angel. He’s in a contract year and is set to hit the unrestricted free agent market in the winter. Since he will be recovering for many months, he will likely go un-signed until he regains his health.