Richards takes step forward, remains cautious

Right-hander will make first Cactus League start March 23 at the earliest

Richards takes step forward, remains cautious

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Garrett Richards took what he called "a big step" Friday, because the steps keep getting bigger. The Angels' standout starter threw 40 pitches on a makeshift infield that has been installed beyond the right-field fence, taking a break in between and occasionally fielding baseballs whenever pitching coach Mike Butcher felt like using his fungo bat to surprise him.

It was Richards' first time combining pitchers' fielding practice with actual pitching, but it won't be the final step in his rehab. He still has to pitch in a controlled game -- likely during Wednesday's off-day, which would mark the fifth consecutive Spring Training off-day that Richards pitches -- and his first Cactus League start won't come until March 23 at the earliest.

That's 13 days before regular-season rosters are due, which makes Richards pretty much relent to the fact that he won't be ready by Opening Day -- his goal since he underwent left knee surgery last August.

"I think it would be immature on my part to just not take into consideration that I just had surgery," Richards said. "I have to go about my day-to-day stuff in a mature, controlled way. That involves pushing myself, but not pushing it to the absolute limit."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been upfront about the reality that Richards would start the season on the disabled list, with the hope that he'll be activated sometime around the middle of April. His knee has responded well throughout the extensive rehab process and the ball continues to explode out of his hand, but the Angels have been extra careful.

Richards understands that, difficult as it might be.

"It's hard, man," Richards said. "It's hard. I have to pump the breaks. I'm ready to play, but I'm not ready to get out there and start testing it yet. It's going to come, though. It'll come soon."

Some additional notes from Friday …

• Cuban shortstop Roberto Baldoquin arrived in Arizona on Friday morning and reported to Minor League camp, where he took some batting practice and fielded some grounders in front of several members of the Angels' front office. The 20-year-old was stuck in a hotel room in Haiti for eight days while the local government went on strike. Scioscia will occasionally have him in Major League camp to work out with the coaches.

Matt Joyce returned to the lineup on Friday, batting third and serving as the designated hitter after getting scratched from Thursday's lineup because a hamstring issue. The left-handed-hitting outfielder also missed two games early in camp with soreness in his right side.

• Setup man Joe Smith, previously hampered by lower leg stiffness, hopes to pitch in his first Cactus League game on Sunday and said he only needs eight appearances to feel ready for the regular season. He has time for that workload, with off-days in between, if he doesn't have another setback.

• Longtime radio personality Joe McDonnell, a fixture in the Southern California sports scene, died Friday. Angels manager Mike Scioscia knew McDonnell since his rookie year with the Dodgers in 1980 and was informed of his passing midgame.

"Joe's a good friend and he's going to be missed," Scioscia said. "It's sad."

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.