TEMPE, Ariz. - Garrett Richards stood near the mound and watched others go through pitchers' fielding practice on one of the backfields at the Angels' Spring Training complex on Tuesday morning. Then he grabbed a baseball, walked to right field with Matt Shoemaker, played catch, moved to the bullpen, threw several pitches off the rubber, moved to another field and took the biggest step - maybe the final step - in his recovering from left knee surgery.
Richards took part in a two-inning simulated game, throwing 41 pitches and sitting on the bench at the midway point to simulate his normal between-innings break.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto was in attendance, as he has been basically every time Richards has stepped on a mound this spring. He raved about a fastball that "looked like it was 110 mph" and chuckled at a slider that made one of the Angels' Minor League hitters look foolish.
"Physically, he's probably ahead of 99 percent of the pitchers in Major League Baseball right now," Dipoto said. "But we have to make concessions for where he's been and take it day by day."
And therein lies the difficulty in all of this.
Richards, who has faced hitters twice in the last four days, has hit every check mark in his recovery from August surgery on his left patellar tendon. His stuff looks explosive, aside from the occasional breaking ball that slips. His knee hasn't presented any issues. And he's done a handful of PFP drills already, basically simulating the play that led to his season-ending injury six and a half months ago.
But Richards isn't expected to pitch in his first Cactus League game until early next week, at the absolute earliest, and in all likelihood he'll start the season on the disabled list and come back around the middle of April. Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said Richards will pitch in a game "in the very near future," but the 26-year-old right-hander still has to do more PFP work.
"We're not going to push it to get to Opening Day just to say we did," Dipoto said. "We're going to do the right thing for Garrett. We'll probably be more conservative than aggressive. But as you can see with the way he's progressing, he's not that far behind the other guys."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.