Richard's rebound couldn't happen to a better man

Left-hander has 1.15 ERA in 31 1/3 innings with Padres

Richard's rebound couldn't happen to a better man

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Over more than five decades around sports and teams, I've developed friendships with a number of athletes.

Tony Gwynn, of course, tops this list. At times, I talked to Tony daily. Even after he retired, we'd discuss baseball and a number of subjects two and three times a week.

Over the past decade, two of my favorite Padres were Nick Hundley and Clayton Richard. There were certainly others on the list - Will Venable, Chase Headley to name a few.

So I took a little time to enjoy the moment Thursday night at Petco Park when Richard stepped into the batter's box. Behind the plate for the Rockies was Hundley. The former Padres batterymates remain close friends.

If it was a special moment for me, I can't imagine what it was like for Richard and his former catcher.

Earlier Thursday, I had ducked into the Rockies clubhouse for a moment to wish Hundley, who was a Padre from 2008 to 2014, a happy 33rd birthday.

At the end of a brief visit, I wished Hundley continued success . . but not Thursday night, not against Richard. "I appreciate that and totally understand," Hundley laughed.

Richard and Hundley would meet briefly at the plate four times Thursday night during the Padres' romp. Hundley has flourished with the Rockies. Richard is rebuilding his career with the Padres.

"I couldn't be happier for him," Hundley said of Richard before the game. "It really looks like he's got it back."

I feel the same way. I am thoroughly enjoying the run that Richard is having during his second tour with the Padres. Manager Andy Green noted after Thursday's seven-inning shutout effort that Richard has pitched his way into the Padres thinking for 2017.

Since signing with the Padres on Aug. 6 after being released by the Chicago Cubs, Richard has allowed six runs (four earned) in 31 1/3 innings over seven appearances (five starts). Over his last three starts, Richard has allowed one run in 19 innings. Over his last four starts, he has allowed one earned run in 25 innings.

Richard is a different pitcher than the one who departed San Diego after 2013 season as damaged goods. A second round of surgery seems to have addressed the shoulder issues that plagued him.

He's also changed his arm slot and has added a sinker to supplement a fastball that is deceptive up in the zone.

The 6-foot-5 left-hander, who turns 33 Monday, has changed his approach as well as his delivery.

"It is different," said Padres manager Andy Green. "His ball is sinking and he's getting ground ball outs. And he can still throw the fastball up in the zone. It's a good recipe."

"I'm smarter," said Richard. "I'm taking things easier. Less is more. I did move my arm slot. But I'm staying relaxed. And tonight I was consistently down in the zone."

In addition to the eight strikeouts, Richard got 11 outs on ground balls Thursday. Only one out was hit to the outfield.

"He's definitely deceptive," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said of Richard. "It looks like his fastball has come back. The velocity is creeping up there again. And he's got a lot of movement."

Bottom line . . . good things happen to good people.

NOTES FROM THE SCOREBOOK

-- Had not Rockies shortstop Cristhian Adames homered off Brandon Morrow with one out in the ninth inning Thursday, the Padres would have won 14-0. And that would have been the most lop-sided shutout victory in the history of the Padres.

--Second baseman Ryan Schimpf's 15th double and 18th homer Thursday night gives the rookie 38 extra-base hits in his 50-hit Major League total. Schimpf, who made his Major League debut on June 16, has 18 homers in 215 at-bats. Despite his late start, his 18 home runs tie him for third all-time on the Padres rookie charts. Nate Colbert holds the mark with 24 in the Padres inaugural season of 1969. Jedd Gyorko hit 23. Schimpf is tied with Kevin Kousmanoff and Benito Santiago for third.

--Catcher Derek Norris can't catch a break. A half inning after hitting his first homer since July 10 Thursday night, Norris was forced from the game after taking a foul tip off the right clavicle. Norris was also hit by a pitch earlier in the game. Before the homer, Norris was in a 4-for-46 drought with 23 strikeouts.

--Left fielder Alex Dickerson was 2-for-4 with a walk and set a career-high with four runs scored Thursday night. Dickerson is hitting .280 (37-for-132) in 38 games since July 24 with 10 doubles, one triple, six home runs and 19 RBIs.