FORT MYERS, Fla. — Outside of a few teammates and coaches, JetBlue Park was empty Thursday when Garrett Richards popped out of the dugout at 9:28 a.m.
The Red Sox had a day off. But at this point in spring training, starting pitchers take the mound every five days whether there’s a game or not so they can remain on track for the season.
Throwing to catcher Jett Bandy with no fielders behind him, Richards went five innings and threw 79 pitches.
“Any time you touch the mound, I feel like you’ve got to take that seriously,” Richards said. “That’s where you make your money. I go into these games with the same intensity I would if we were playing another team.”
It was a decidedly informal affair. The catchers called balls and strikes, and catching coach Jason Varitek ran the bases.
But Richards got into it. With a runner on first and one out in the fourth inning, Chris Herrmann grounded a pitch up the middle. A theoretical double play ball for sure, but Richards was told to keep pitching.
Franchy Cordero followed with a one-hop smash back to the mound that Richards made a nice play on.
“Now it’s over!” he said, and the coaches agreed.
Richards looked sharp. He faced 24 hitters and struck out six. There was one walk and six hits. Maybe seven. One virtual run may have scored in the last inning.
“Threw a lot of strikes, controlled a lot of counts, got a lot of weak contact when the ball was put in play,” Richards said. “I’m really building off outings now. It’s getting better and better every time I get out there.
“Starting to feel some real good familiar stuff.”
Richards was signed to a one-year, $10 million contract in early February, with the Sox holding an option for 2022. The Sox hope his presence, along with the return of Eduardo Rodríguez, will improve what was one of the worst rotations in baseball last season.
“We’ve got dogs. We’re out there to win,” Richards said. “We’re all pushing for each other. It’s a tight-knit group.
“I think this is a team that’s going to be sneaky good. We don’t necessarily need everybody to talk about us. But we’ll be there in the end, I promise you that.”
Workday for them
Matt Barnes, Hirokazu Sawamura, and Marcus Walden also pitched. Barnes faced six hitters, striking out three and throwing 25 pitches. Sawamura worked two innings and retired all six hitters he faced, the final four by strikeout. Walden threw an inning and allowed one hit. . .Cordero had 11 at-bats. He struck out four times and had three hits, including a double. The outfielder has been piling up plate appearances behind the scenes and should be ready for a Grapefruit League game soon. Cordero was late reporting to camp after testing positive for COVID-19 in the Dominican Republic. . . Xander Bogaerts was 2 for 5 with a walk, and Nick Yorke took nine at-bats. . . The Sox host the Rays Friday at 1:05 p.m.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.