Richards blanks M's as Nelson delivers decisive blow

Richards blanks M's as Nelson delivers decisive blow

Richards blanks M's as Nelson delivers decisive blow

SEATTLE -- Garrett Richards' latest (last?) opportunity to prove he deserves to be part of the Angels' rotation for good has seen him tame a dangerous Rangers lineup, keep his composure in front of a national-TV audience at Yankee Stadium and blank the A's in Oakland.

On Friday night, the 25-year-old right-hander added another notch to his belt: he stared down Felix Hernandez and beat him at his own place.

"It's nice to be able to hang with guys like that and continue to improve my game," Richards said after keying a 2-0 win. "But for the most part, I don't really care who's on the other team or who's in the box. I'm going to do my thing regardless."

That mentality is a big part of Richards' maturity -- as is the resourcefulness he displayed in the opener of a nine-game road trip.

On a night when he threw only 55 of his 89 pitches for strikes and got ahead of only 10 of the 26 hitters he faced -- including just one of his first seven -- Richards was able to hurl 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball, snapping the Angels' five-game losing streak at Safeco Field and four-game losing streak overall.

"It was the best game that he had in the sense that if he needed to make a pitch, he did," catcher Chris Iannetta said. "If he needed to throw a 3-2 breaking ball, he did. If he needed to get a double-play ball, he did. Whenever there was a turning point in the game where he needed to make a pitch, he definitely did."

Richards put only one runner in scoring position and stranded five of them, scattering four hits, walking two and striking out four to put his ERA at 2.75 in six starts since taking Joe Blanton's spot in the rotation. In six innings, Hernandez gave up only a Chris Nelson two-run homer -- snapping an 0-for-17 skid for the third baseman -- and struck out 10 batters.

But Richards gave him no margin for error.

"Richards threw an unbelievable game," Hernandez said after losing to the Angels for the first time this season. "You have to give credit to that."

Dustin Ackley's comebacker to start the eighth was really the only thing that could stop Richards. The ball ricocheted off his right forearm and one-hopped to shortstop Erick Aybar for the out, but it drew the attention of the Angels' medical staff and prompted Richards to come out of the game with what the team later deemed as a bruise.

Richards felt fine. He wanted to throw a couple of warmup pitches to prove it, but the Angels (56-71) took the cautious route with one of their few young, promising starting pitchers.

"Enough was enough," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after his team won for only the seventh time in 19 games. "We didn't need him to go out there and irritate something by throwing something he shouldn't. He'll be evaluated, and hopefully he'll be on time for his next start."

Scioscia used Dane De La Rosa to record the final two outs of the eighth, then went to previously demoted closer Ernesto Frieri, who struck out the side in the ninth to earn his first save since Aug. 2 and give him six straight shutout innings -- immediately following a seven-game stretch in which he gave up 12 runs in 4 2/3 innings.

"I think the rest has helped him," Iannetta said. "He's got a little bit more life on his fastball now. Velocity-wise, it's the same. But velocity and life are two different things."

Mike Trout went 0-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts in his first game since sustaining a tight right hamstring on Sunday -- snapping a 40-game on-base streak that was the longest streak in the Majors and the second-longest in team history -- and the Angels' short-handed offense has now totaled six runs in the last four games.

It mattered little to Richards, the talented right-hander who finally looks to be finding a comfort zone after a couple of inconsistent stints as a Major League starter.  

He shut the A's out through five scoreless innings on July 27, then pitched seven innings of two-run ball against the Blue Jays, limited the Rangers to three runs in six innings and pitched eight innings of two-run ball in the Bronx before a rare dud his last time out, in which Richards gave up five runs on 12 hits in six innings to the Astros.

Then, on "King's Court," he found it again.

"I'm just trying to keep everything real simple -- simple delivery, trying to throw the ball upfront and focus on strike one, which I could've done a better job of tonight," Richards said. "Just pounding the zone and going right at guys. Hitting is a hard thing, and I feel like sometimes we give hitters too much credit."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.