"Garrett was struggling with his command, first and foremost," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got such a good arm, such a live arm, but you need to command counts. He's having a little trouble doing that."
After giving up a run in the first inning, it took Richards just two pitches in the second to allow two more runs on back-to-back homers from Mark Reynolds and Ryan Flaherty. Richards allowed another run in the inning as the Orioles took a 4-1 lead.
The Angels (46-37) added two runs in their half of the second to cut the Baltimore lead to one, but Richards ran into home run trouble again in the fourth inning when, with two outs, Matt Wieters ripped a three-run homer over the short fence in right to give the Orioles (44-38) a 7-3 lead.
"I'm missing spots right now, the ball's over the plate and I'm getting hit around a little bit," Richards said. "So I've got to go back to the drawing board, throwing more strikes and hitting my spots."
Though he had walked 11 batters through the first three starts of the season, Richards had surrendered just two earned runs in 20 innings (0.90 ERA). But his control issues during his most recent starts have finally come back to haunt him.
Richards said he still feels like the same pitcher that he was three starts ago, despite the drastic difference in results. It's just a slump, he said, and one that he'll get through.
"I'm not discouraged at all," Richards said. "I know that I belong here, and this is just a stepping stone. I'm going to keep pitching like I'm pitching and [coaches] make the decisions."
With Richards being sent down, it will give the Angels a chance to add an arm to a bullpen that had been overworked during the last few games. During the last six games, the bullpen has thrown 28 innings. Starters recorded an out past the fifth inning just once in that span.
"We were going to have to get an arm up here for this weekend in the 'pen, there's no doubt about that," Scioscia said. "It became apparent tonight after so many innings and Garrett really struggled to get deep into the game that we need another arm up here for the next couple days. Garrett wasn't going to be able to pitch for the weekend, so he was going to give us a chance to get that arm."
Richards' demotion doesn't necessarily mean the end of his time in the rotation, however. Scioscia said the plan is to have the righty throw in the Minors next week and assess the rotation's needs from there. With the four-day break for All-Star week, it gives the Angels some time to set up their thin core of starters, as Jerome Williams could be ready to return by the time his spot would come up.
Though it came at the price of the 24-year-old pitcher, the win was the first in three games for the Angels and cut their deficit in the American League West to four games, the closest they've been to the first-place Rangers since June 17.
Once Richards left the game, Angels relievers combined to throw 4 2/3 scoreless innings. Ernesto Frieri entered the game in the ninth to earn his 11th save and stretch his scoreless-innings streak to 25 1/3.
Down by four runs following Wieters' homer in the top of the inning, the Angels put five runs on the board in the bottom of the fourth, capped off by Kendrys Morales' two-run single, which gave the Angels their first lead of the game. The base hit scored Torii Hunter and Albert Pujols, who each had singled.
It has been a struggle for most of the season with runners in scoring position for the Angels, but the team went 5-for-12 with men in scoring position on Thursday, with four of those hits coming with two outs, including the game winner.
"Early in the year that was our Achilles' heel, but we're starting to attack the ball better and have better plans," Scioscia said. "With guys in scoring position, I think we did a great job tonight."