Richard aims to resurrect career with Pirates

Left-hander working diligently with Searage, Benedict in camp

Richard aims to resurrect career with Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates starting pitchers continued their impressive game of one-upmanship on Tuesday. As manager Clint Hurdle paints it, no one wants to be the weak link, or the guy who breaks the chain.

Clayton Richard has responsibility for a different chain. He wants to prolong the Bucs' track record with mound reclamation projects, and concurrently his own career.

Ray Searage and Jim Benedict have fixed pitchers from A.J. Burnett through Edinson Volquez, but Richard would be their crowning work. Other pitchers came to them when they were down; Richard is the first to arrive after he was out, all of 2014 recovering from surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome.

Searage's task was getting Richard back to delivering the ball the way he did before favoring the pain in his shoulder; the pitching coach pored over video of Richard when he was a two-time 14-game winner in San Diego. Richard's task is making the tweaks stick.

First reports are positive. Richard, in camp as a non-roster invite, has thrown a total of three competitive innings and allowed one run.

"It felt good, strong. The main thing now is repeating my delivery, and I think I was able to do that with the fastball," Richard said after racking up four strikeouts in a two-inning "B" game stint on Monday.

"He looked good. He's getting comfortable with the adjustments in his mechanics," said Hurdle, who took in the "B" game at Pirate City in person. "He repeated his delivery, and his velocity even picked up as he went on. A very good outing."

Thoracic outlet syndrome -- the compression of nerves and blood vessels resolved by partially shaving down the collarbone -- is a rare but not unprecedented pitcher injury.

So it is easy for Richard to find inspiration and encouragement. He can look past Daniel Bard, the former dynamic Boston reliever who has had a trying time pitching effectively after the surgery, right at Chris Young, a former San Diego teammate.

Young -- the 6-foot-10 pitcher, not the outfielder -- impressively bounced back from the same operation. Young had the surgery in June 2013 and won 12 games last season. Richard has consulted Young and likes that timeframe, having undergone his procedure two months earlier.

Young was selected by the Pirates in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, but he was then traded to the Expos two years later. When he was signed by Seattle last spring, the Mariners created room for him on their 40-man roster by waiving Bobby LaFromboise, who later in the summer wound up with the Bucs.

"Chris kind of told me what to expect and how to go about the rehab, and his advice really helped," Richard said.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.