Garrett Richards is looking for some sort of old spark this season. After two straight seasons with the San Diego Padres that were marred by injury — Tommy John surgery in 2019 that, looking back, Richards wished he had gotten in 2016 — and underwhelming performance, Richards hopes to regain the form of his older days with the Red Sox. The Sox made Richards’s signing official Wednesday, inking the righthander to a one-year, $10 million deal, including a $10 million team option for 2022.
“I feel good,” Richards said. “I put in a lot of time and rehab into getting back on the field and in making sure that I can keep my same stuff that I’ve always had. And so I think that’s just a credit to my hard work, and the people that have been around me to help me get to this point.”
Richards noted that even after returning to the field, he wasn’t quite back to 100 percent, which is typical for a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery. In 10 starts with the Padres last season, Richards tallied a 4.03 ERA in 51⅓ innings. While those numbers are serviceable, they certainly don’t paint the picture of what Richards has accomplished in the past. In 86 starts with the Los Angeles Angels between 2014-18, Richards posted a 3.15 ERA. In 514⅔ innings, allowing just 0.7 homers per nine innings.
In last year’s shortened season, Richards’s curveball — one of his more effective pitches — and two-seamer were proven ineffective. They were tagged for .313 and .467 batting averages, respectively.
“I think as of late, it’s become more vertical versus horizontal action,” Richards said regarding his two-seamer. “So, it’s not that it’s a location thing as far as inside and outside, I think it’s the height of [the pitch].”
Richards’s recent struggles do have a bit of a silver lining. Sure, he has past success to lean on, but he also has the stuff. His average fastball velocity for his career is 96.1 miles per hour, and last season, at 32 years old, Richards’s average fastball velocity was 95.1 m.p.h. Additionally, if you consider some of the more current data and metrics, his curveball is a pitch that has elite action. Despite Richards acknowledging some of his ignorance to what that data actually means and how he can utilize the information presented to him on the field, he’s keeping an open mind about it.
“I am interested in kind of going deeper into that,” he said. “Every organization is different. So I’m not against it. If somebody can show me how to effectively make my stuff better, why would I not want to listen to that? So I am excited to see what the Red Sox offer in that department, and I’ll see if it’s kind of for me or not.”
Undoubtedly, the Red Sox feel as if Richards’s struggles the last couple of years can be reversed. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom even said Richards has some of the best natural talent in the game.
“Garrett’s always had really high-end stuff,” Bloom said. “He just has a natural ability to spin the baseball. Whenever you get a player, it’s really exciting to get under the hood with them and find out what makes them tick, and then work together to figure out how to get a game plan to bring the best out of the guy.”
The Red Sox are looking for Richards to start, and even though the rotation struggled last year, he thinks it will rebound heading into the 2021 season.
“I think it’s solid,” Richards said. “And then when you get Chris Sale back, I mean, that’s a huge addition to any rotation. But Nathan Eovaldi, I mean, [he has] plus stuff. That guy’s so much fun to watch. [Martín] Pérez just signed back. I played in the minor leagues against him. An incredible arm, I think it’s just going to be a chance for us to out and pitch.”
Richards comes in with some familiarity with the Red Sox. He reached out to former Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland, who gave his stamp of approval. Richards came through the Angels’ system with reliever Ryan Brasier. Yet even though he has Brasier to lean on and Moreland’s words regarding the organization, the fresh start intrigued Richards and his family.
“I’ve been on the West Coast my entire career,” he said. “I pretty much covered from here to Texas pretty frequently. So, it was kind of something that we thought we might, you know, might be a new opportunity. Kind of something different, something new and exciting. I want to go somewhere where it checks a lot of boxes. I want to go somewhere that’s going to provide everything in order for us to win ballgames.”