Richards confident he'll be ready for 2017

Angels pitcher throws off mound in rehab from elbow injury

Richards confident he'll be ready for 2017

ANAHEIM -- It might have been a joke when Garrett Richards took a faux-curtain call to applause from his teammates as he walked off the field at Angel Stadium on Saturday afternoon, but there was no denying his accomplishment was significant.

Richards threw off a mound for the first time since suffering a right elbow ligament injury in early May. It was only 20 pitches, all fastballs, and only at around 80 percent effort, but it was another significant step forward for a pitcher who's become increasingly more confident he will pitch in 2017.

"As of right now, throwing off the bump today and doing everything I've done up to this point, there's no doubt in my mind that I'll be able to throw next year," Richards said. "I don't feel anything abnormal and everything feels rested and ready to go."

The plan from here is to throw a bullpen session every few days, then continue to ramp up in the instructional leagues in October. Once he's stretched out enough, he will throw in instructional leagues on his regular schedule. If all goes as planned, he will start preparing for next season.

Richards' next bullpen session will come on Monday, then a 30-40 pitch session on Thursday. By then, he plans to start mixing in curveballs and sliders to his repertoire. He plans to face live hitters near the end of the season.

"I feel like I'm already built up to the point where if I were going to feel something abnormal, I would have probably already felt it. Everything feels totally normal," Richards said. "Honestly, I don't notice the difference in the way the ball is coming out of my hand now as it did Spring Training this year."

The progress so far is a vindication of his decision to forgo Tommy John surgery. Instead, the right-hander opted for a platelet-rich plasma shot and months of rest.

Richards still has several steps to make, and a setback forcing the surgery would knock him out until at least 2018, but the process has gone as well as the team could have hoped. For now, all Richards can do is smile.

"I hope that this paves the way for some other guys going through a similar thing," Richards said. "I was dead set on having surgery, then we decided to go with this. Probably the best decision I've made for my career so far. If you don't have to have surgery, why have surgery?"

Jack Baer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. He covered the Angels on Saturday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.