Richards gets more comfortable with changeup

Richards gets more comfortable with changeup

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Garrett Richards was always told he should throw a changeup -- because it would offset all of the other pitches he throws with so much velocity -- but he could never figure out how to do it. He tried again over the offseason, but it still didn't feel right. Then, during a Spring Training game earlier this month, Richards leaned up against the dugout railing and spent five innings listening to veteran closer Huston Street talk him through the mentality behind that pitch.

Said Richards: "I didn't realize that I had been throwing a changeup all wrong this whole time."

Richards would "cast it out" every time he released it, which meant he didn't get proper extension and didn't follow through by "pulling it down." The day after he and Street went over the process, Richards worked on it during a bullpen session and brought it into a Minor League game on March 13. One Angels executive said it "looked like a Felix Hernandez changeup."

It sits 88-90 mph, still far slower than a fastball that averages about 96 mph, and, at its best, cuts down and in to right-handed hitters like a two-seamer.

Outlook: Richards, SP, LAA

"I'm definitely going to use it," Richards said. "All year."

Richards pitched in a six-inning intrasquad game at an otherwise empty Tempe Diablo Stadium on Thursday, striking out six batters, walking a couple and running his pitch count up into the 90s for the first time. He threw "a ton" of changeups, probably somewhere between 20 and 30.

He threw just one in 2015.

"Every outing I go out," Richards said, "it gets more comfortable."

Richards has always been more comfortable throwing the changeup with a two-seam grip, as opposed to the more popular circle-change grip, but now he actually throws it properly.

"Getting the extension and pulling the ball down, it's giving me better movement late," Richards said. "It's got a two-seam movement on it, but if I do miss, it's down. That's another thing. A changeup up in the zone is not a good pitch. It's enabling me to throw it for quality strikes and to be able to throw it below the zone if I need to. I think just mixing that pitch in is going to open up a lot of things."

Richards was basically a two-pitch guy in 2015, his first season removed from major surgery on his left knee. He relied mostly on his four-seam fastball and slider, occasionally mixing in a loopy curveball. Now he's reintroducing his two-seam fastball, and he finally has a changeup that can throw off opposing hitters' timing.

"I think it's going to be a great pitch this year," Richards said. "I feel comfortable with it every time I go out. It's really just about finding your release point on it."

Worth noting

• Right-handed-hitting outfielder Craig Gentry came down with the flu, prompting him to sit against White Sox lefty Chris Sale in Thursday's 6-5 win. Daniel Nava, Gentry's left-field platoon mate, started in his place and batted seventh.

• The Angels' training staff packed up most of the team's equipment on Thursday morning and drove it to Anaheim for the three-game exhibition Freeway Series that starts next Thursday, four days prior to Opening Day.

• The Angels could carry an eighth reliever on their Opening Day roster, since a fifth starter will not be needed until April 11. Al Alburquerque, Javy Guerra, Greg Mahle and Cam Bedrosian appear to be competing for one or two open bullpen spots.

Bedrosian gets the final out

Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin and Joe Smith also pitched in Thursday's intrasquad game, with Alvarez throwing two innings. First baseman Ji-Man Choi, a presumed favorite for the final bench spot, spent some time in left field.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.