"It felt great just to get back out there and compete and be out there with my teammates and just grinding right there with them instead of sitting on the side and watching games go by," Richards said.
Arguably the Angels' most talented pitcher, Richards established himself as the club's ace between 2014-15, but he missed nearly all of last season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. He avoided Tommy John surgery by receiving an injection of his own stem cells in his damaged elbow and arrived to Spring Training healthy, but the biceps issue prevented him from throwing again until July.
Richards' next game action did not come until last Wednesday, when he made a two-inning rehab start for Triple-A Salt Lake. Though he was still not fully stretched out, the Angels flew Richards to Texas over the weekend and determined that he was ready to return to their rotation. They could afford an abbreviated start, as they entered Tuesday with 13 relievers on their roster, including right-hander Deolis Guerra, whose contract was selected from Triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday.
To clear spots on the 40-man roster for Richards and Guerra, the Angels designated right-handers Vicente Campos and Mike Morin for assignment.
In the first inning, Richards needed only five pitches to retire the the side, with his fastball humming between 95-97 mph. He then struck out two over a spotless second, though he was tested in the third.
After issuing a one-out walk to Matt Chapman to give the A's their first baserunner of the night, Richards allowed a single up the middle to Boog Powell, Oakland's No. 9 hitter, to put runners on the corners. Still, Richards escaped the jam unscathed, coaxing a fielder's choice out from Marcus Semien and retiring Matt Joyce on a groundout to end the inning.
But he couldn't dodge trouble in the fourth. With his pitch count at 38 and Blake Wood warming in the bullpen, Richards yielded a leadoff double to Jed Lowrie, followed by a single to Khris Davis to put runners on first and third with no outs for the A's. That brought up Chad Pinder, who crushed a 2-1 slider off the left-field wall for an RBI double that cut the Angels' lead to 3-1 and ended Richards' night.
"The stuff looked great," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I thought he used all his pitches, had his two-seamer going, a lot of life on his fastball. He threw a really good curveball to strike [Matt] Olson out and threw some good sliders, too. It looked like he didn't skip a beat."
The Angels plan to continue to build up Richards' pitch count over the final few weeks of the season in the hope that he'll be ready to throw 100 pitches in a potential American League Wild Card Game on Oct. 3. Tuesday's victory moved the Angels a half-game ahead of the Twins for the second Wild Card spot, and Richards could continue to boost their postseason push down the stretch.
"This is a good one to build off of," Richards said. "Hopefully next time I can go a little bit longer, but still give the same output."