Calhoun's homer sets tone for Richards

Calhoun's homer sets tone for Richards

ANAHEIM -- A two-run lead isn't much, but with the way the Angels' offense has struggled this season, early breathing room for a starting pitcher can feel bigger than it looks on the scoreboard.

So Kole Calhoun's two-run homer off J.A. Happ in the first inning of the Angels' 4-2 win over the Mariners on Saturday was important for Garrett Richards, who was able to attack Seattle hitters with his plus pitches for 7 2/3 innings, during which he allowed just two runs.

Richards' solid outing

"That's a big hit at the time, obviously," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think it did let Garrett not worry about one pitch or one mistake that could hurt him early. Not many leads we've had early, so it was good to get out in front, and Garrett just pounded the zone with good stuff and made them work."

Calhoun's home run was his first in 13 games and 50 at-bats, and his first off a left-handed pitcher since April 21. The Angels right fielder had seen his average dip from over .300 on May 12 to .258 just prior to his first-inning long ball.

Calhoun made Richards the beneficiary of early run support, but really, Scioscia's comments applied to the whole Angels staff.

"Looking at the way our games have progressed this year, it's remarkable, really," Scioscia said. "You look at the starting pitchers, I think we're maybe second in our league in innings, as far as length and average innings per start and good innings. [We are] pitching really with very little margin of error."

But it's about more than just having to throw a lot of innings in tense situations produced by a lack of cushion, Scioscia said. There's a more tangible effect on the starting pitcher.

"It's not the stress -- it's really just some of the things you can do," Scioscia said. "It limits your repertoire a little bit, makes you stay out of a zone that might set something up later in the game or set something up later that at-bat.

"You don't have the freedom to go out there and do the things you want to do [if you have to] make the pitch to keep the ball in the park. If you get those early runs, you can leave a lot of stuff out there -- let it go, not worry about one mistake in a zone when you're challenging a hitter that can tilt the game."

And Richards said Calhoun's homer -- and Johnny Giavotella's seventh-inning bases-loaded single that provided an insurance run -- did, in fact, help him pitch more freely.

"Mentally, you don't have to nibble," Richards said. "You can go right at guys. You don't have to be worried about making a mistake."

David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.