Los Angeles Angel fans have grown accustomed to stellar performances by star center fielder Mike Trout. His first career walk-off home run gave the Halos a 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday evening, further solidifying his position as the face of the franchise.
Despite Trout’s popularity and late-game heroics, pitcher Garrett Richards has been the most consistent and valuable player for the Angels this season.
In 2013, the Angels were desperately in need of solid pitching, and it appeared as though Richards would be the one to stabilize the starting rotation. After a few strong showings out of the bullpen, Richards earned a starting role, albeit short-lived. His ERA climbed to 5.04 during his four starts, and he was sent back to the bullpen, where he would remain until late July.
Aware of their weaknesses, the Angels acquired new arms during the offseason, adding Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs to the rotation. While Skaggs has soared and Santiago has stumbled, Richards has been the most reliable pitcher in the much-improved starting rotation.
In his last start, which came against the Philadelphia Phillies, Richards threw seven shutout innings. Although the game looked like a pitching clinic for most of Richards’ time on the mound, he got into a jam in the sixth inning when the Phillies put runners on second and third with one out. The hurler used a slider in the dirt to strike out Ryan Howard before ending the threat with a 96-mile per hour fastball, which resulted in a blooper off the bat of Marlon Byrd.
With the victory over the Phillies, Richards moved to 4-0. He now has a 2.42 ERA, third best among Angel pitchers and best among Angel starting pitchers. He has allowed 14 runs over 52 innings, while recording 54 strikeouts. His batting average against currently rests at .186, which is second best on the team behind reliever Michael Kohn.
As the numbers suggest, the 25-year old is coming into his own and maturing as a pitcher. While he used to panic when he found himself in a jam, thinking that throwing harder would solve his problems, he is now able to see the game more clearly. He allows this clarity to aid in his decision-making.
Richards has also worked under high pressure, as the Angels continue to struggles at the plate. In that victory over Philadelphia, the team left nine runners on base and went 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Richards was able to make up for his team’s offensive struggles, keeping his opponents scoreless.
Thus, it could be argued that Mike Trout has the most raw talent or Albert Pujols has had the best career, but Garrett Richards has been the most impressive player in an Angel uniform this season. Over his eight starts, he has been reliable and arguably one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball. He filled an important hole in the starting rotation, a hole he didn’t quite fit into during the 2013 season.