ST. PETERSBURG -- Prior to the start of the 2008 season, Clayton Richard was known more as a former quarterback for the University of Michigan playing professional baseball than a talented Minor League hurler quickly working his way toward the White Sox.
After one game of the American League Division Series against Tampa Bay, Richard now might present Ozzie Guillen another starting option if this round reaches five games or even if the White Sox advance to the AL Championship Series. Richard's scoreless performance over 3 1/3 innings in relief of starter Javier Vazquez during Thursday's 6-4 loss was one of the few true bright spots for the South Siders.
"Outstanding job," said Guillen of Richard, who gave up three hits. "I mean, I never thought this kid was going to pitch the way he did.
"First year in the big leagues, in a playoff situation, and he handled it the way he did. I'm proud and happy how this kid is pitching for us all year long. He did an outstanding job. He saved our bullpen for the next couple of days."
Richard couldn't exactly be classified as a surprise addition as the second left-hander to the White Sox playoff roster. Boone Logan worked his way out of contention with a disastrous second-half performance, and Richard was chosen over Horacio Ramirez because of Richard's ability to work long relief.
On Thursday, Richard turned what could have been a blowout into a chance for the White Sox to rally. He allowed Carl Crawford's run-scoring single upon replacing Vazquez in the fifth, putting runners on first and second with one out. But Richard struck out Cliff Floyd and Dioner Navarro to end the inning and then fanned Gabe Gross, Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura to make quick work of the Rays in the sixth.
Five straight strikeouts. All swinging. Three coming against left-hander hitters.
"That's kind of the role I've been in lately, so I can't really expect to come in a different situation," said the low-key Richard, who last started at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 17, allowing two runs on five hits over 6 2/3 innings during that impressive effort.
"My role is to try to stop them from scoring," Richard said. "[I was trying to stick to] just the basics so we'd have a chance for our offense, and I thought for the most part, I was able to do it. We just weren't able to pull it off."
Leaving with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth, Richard praised fellow reliever Octavio Dotel for striking out B.J. Upton to get the team out of trouble. Richard was humble and seemingly bothered more by the team's loss than celebrating his stellar showing.
Javier Vazquez's last four starts
L, 3.2 IP, 6H, 7R, 6ER, 2HR
L, 4.0 IP, 7H, 5R, 5ER, 1HR
L, 4.1 IP, 5H, 7R, 7ER, 1HR
L, 4.1 IP, 8H, 6R, 6ER, 2HR
Last win was Sept. 14 at home against Detroit
The past four appearances for Richard with the White Sox have come in relief, after he made eight starts. He has given up three runs on nine hits over 9 1/3 innings during that bullpen stretch, and could convert that success into a starting postseason role.
If the White Sox go to a fifth game against Tampa Bay, Mark Buehrle would be able to come back on regular rest because of two days off in between. If the White Sox reach the ALCS, Guillen could opt to replace Javier Vazquez with Richard after another rough showing by Vazquez on Thursday.
That sort of change doesn't weigh on Richard's mind.
"I'm not going to worry about it," Richard said. "It's for them to decide. I'll have to get ready for whenever they want to use me again."
"We've got to sit down and talk about it," Guillen added of the potential switch. "I don't want to lose faith in Javy, but it's something that it's on our mind."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.