Garrett Richards emerging as next Los Angeles Angels star

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This is shaping up as the season of a lifetime for Garrett Richards. The Angels’ right-hander is having a break-out season that will be looked at as the turning point in his career as he blossomed into what he was expected to become.

Key man

For now, despite being snubbed for the American League All-Star team, Richards is in the hunt for the AL Cy Young Award and is the anchor of an Angels rotation which could lead the California team to the World Series.

Monday night the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Richards tossed a game to remember. He threw a five-hit shutout against the down-the-pike Los Angeles Dodgers, perhaps the best team in the National League. The Angels won 5-0 and it was the first complete game of Richards’ career. He also punched out nine Dodger hitters on strikes.

These days a complete game is about as rare as a polar bear sighting in mid-town Manhattan, so that’s one thing that made Richards’ victory special. The big surprise in this era of pitch counts that try not to exceed the numbers used in an elementary school arithmetic class, is that Angels manager Mike Scioscia allowed Richards to stick around long enough to throw 122 pitches. These days howls start when a pitcher throws more than 110 pitches.

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Season of progress

The victory lifted Richards’ record to 12-4 with a 2.58 earned average. This game and this season are what the Angels have been waiting to see from Richards, who was a first-round pick out of the University of Oklahoma in 2009.

Getting to this point has not always been a cruise, a seat-belt-free ride. In fact, this may have been a make-or-break season for Richards. He made his Major League debut for the Angels in 2011 and went 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA. No big deal. Lots of rookies’ welcome-to-the-majors’ moments involve bumps. The next season Richards went 4-3, carefully deployed in 30 games, only nine of them starts. His ERA was 4.69.

More was expected in 2013 when Richards finished 7-8 with a 4.16 ERA in 47 appearances, 17 of them starts. Given that Richards was 25, the Angels brass had to wonder if he was ever going to bust out and be a real help. On a team with several disappointments, Richards more or less blended in for the wrong reasons.

Time to kick on

Now the baseball world is seeing a more mature Richards at work. Already he has more wins and innings pitched than he did in any prior season. The Angels have one of the best records in baseball and so does Richards. There is a link.

In a season where all of the moving parts seem oiled and in synch, Richards added to his accomplishments with a complete game and a shutout. Maybe all he needed was confidence these last few years to bring out his talent, but it came out later rather than sooner. Monday’s was a big win for Richards, his career, and the Angels. It is the type of triumph that can be a demarcation line. Now Richards knows he can beat the best teams, throw nine innings, more than a 120 pitches, and be stingy enough not to allow a run along the way.

Richards is not going to win every game the rest of the season, but Monday he gave himself a very valuable present.

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