Angels' Richards looks to regain ace form

Right-hander dumps changeup in return from elbow injury

Angels' Richards looks to regain ace form

TEMPE, Ariz. -- For Garrett Richards, the final mental hurdle came when he took the mound in October during instructional league and experienced game action for the first time since tearing his right elbow ligament. After completing three rehab starts with no setbacks, Richards' confidence in the health of his arm was affirmed.

"When I take the mound now, I'm going to take the mound just like I did even if I didn't get hurt," said Richards, who avoided Tommy John surgery by receiving an injection of stem cells into his elbow in May. "Mentally and physically, I feel like I'm just ready to go. I don't have doubts in my mind or anything."

Much of the success of the 2017 Angels will likely hinge on the health of Richards, the club's ace who made his final start last season on May 1 due to arm trouble. The loss of Richards, coupled with injuries to fellow starters Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano and Matt Shoemaker, devastated the Angels' rotation and played a major factor in the team's eventual 74-88 finish, its worst record since 1999.

Still, Richards reported to Angels camp on Tuesday along with the rest of the pitchers and catchers feeling optimistic about his outlook for the year, but he recognized that he will face workload restrictions in his first season back from the elbow injury.

"I'm assuming I'll get my 100 pitches and we'll go from there," said Richards, 28. "That just means I'm going to have to be more efficient. If I want to get deeper into games, I need to cut down 20 pitches. If I want to make it through the seventh or through the eighth, I have to be more efficient. If they want me to stay at 100 pitches, then I need to figure out a way to go deeper into games with 100 pitches. Maybe filling up the zone a little more, less walks."

Richards, who received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow in October, resumed throwing on Jan. 4 and threw his first bullpen of the season on Friday. During the session, he threw 25 pitches, all fastballs.

Although Richards focused on developing his changeup last spring, he's decided to scrap the pitch from his repertoire because he believes it may have contributed to his elbow injury.

"I'm done with the changeup," Richards said. "I have never thrown a changeup before in my life, and I start throwing a changeup and all of the sudden my elbow starts flaring up."

Instead, Richards plans to lean on his four- and two-seam fastballs while occasionally mixing in sliders and changeups.

"Honestly, I just want to be able to go as deep into games with just my fastball," Richards said. "If I have a sinker and a cutter, guys got to respect two fastballs. It's hard to do. That's what I was doing in 2014 when I was having success."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.