A 30-minute rain delay on a night where temperatures barely cracked 50 degrees are by no means unusual conditions for baseball in Boston.
But for Garrett Richards, the entire concept was foreign. Up until this season, he had spent the first 10 years of his Major League Baseball career in the parts of California that never rain — Los Angeles and San Diego.
“I mean, I didn’t even pack a jacket for a season until this year,” he said.
It’s another part of pitching for the Red Sox that Richards will have to get adjusted to.
After seeing the 32-year old starter bounce back from an ugly opening-day debut with back-to-back solid outings, Sox manager Alex Cora hoped that Richards would find control over his slider and give the Sox six or seven innings Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays on the back end of a snappy two-game series.
The slider, to Cora, was the keystone for Richards. But Richards was still searching for the feel.
“The slider is not where we want it to be or where he wanted to be,” Cora said. “I do believe when the slider starts playing, he’s going to be dominant.”
Richards couldn’t deliver the deep start Cora was looking for. And over his 4.2 innings of work in the Sox’ 6-3 loss, his slider was still elusive.
Richards fell to 0-2 on the season after giving up four runs on four hits and six walks.
“I just think the delivery was off a little bit the whole night,” Richards said. “And [I was] just kind of fighting it the whole night. Then obviously just couldn’t get my release point under control. So just kind of a combination of things. Nothing that can’t be fixed.”
He was barely able to get to his slider — throwing it just 15 times, nine for strikes — and when he did, the Jays did damage.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was 2 for 3 with an RBI single off his slider in the first inning.
“I don’t know why he had trouble commanding, but that put him in a bad spot, right,” Cora said. “He finishes out strong, but we’ve got to find a way to throw the slider for strikes. He’s been very inconsistent with it, even in spring training. That’s something that we have to work and try to find it.
Richards had to work himself out of trouble from the start against the Jays.
He started the game by walking Cavan Biggio on four pitches, hitting Bo Bichette on his elbow protector, then giving up an RBI single to Guerrero. But he managed to minimize the damage when he got a double-play ball out of Rowdy Tellez and got out of the inning thanks to a groundout from Randal Grichuk.
But Richards couldn’t find a feel for his fastball and paid for it in a three-run second inning.
He left a four-seamer over the plate to Marcus Semien that Semien slapped to left for a leadoff single. He walked Josh Palacios on five pitches. A wild pitch to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. moved the runners to second and third with no outs and Gurriel scored Semien with a sacrifice fly to right.
With first base open, Richards walked Danny Jansenon four pitches. He got the ground ball he wanted out of Biggio, but couldn’t get the double play to make it worthwhile. Palacios scored from third to give the Jays a 3-0 lead. Then Bichette tacked on with an RBI single to center that stretched the lead to 4.
With no feel for the slider, Richards threw 66 fastballs.
“It’s hard to maneuver a big-league lineup with one pitch,” Cora said. “If we can get that pitch back to what it was in the past and use the curveball, too, we’re going to have the guy that we envisioned before the season.”
Richards’ only clean inning was a 1-2-3 third, in which he struck out Grichuk and Palacios.
The Sox cut into the lead when J.D. Martinez gave them a leadoff double and scored two batters later on a ground out from Rafael Devers.
Richards made it to the fifth inning, but after walking Guerrero to lead off then giving a free pass to Semien with two outs, Cora took the ball while the Sox were still in striking distance.
Enrique Hernandez’s RBI double cut the deficit to 4-2.
“The way he finished his outing was a positive,” Cora said. “He gave us a chance actually to stay away from some guys early on and then in the bullpen, we tried to patch it up all the way to the end, but it didn’t happen.”
The Sox made it a one-run game in the eight on Xander Bogaerts’s second homer of a season and threatened to tie it when Christian Vázquez worked a two-out walk and Marwin González reached on an error by Biggio that set up a second-and-third situation. But Bobby Dalbec grounded out to end the inning.
The elements caught Richards off guard.
“We had rain tonight, it was cold, there was a lot of things going on,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse. You’ve got to be better. You’ve got to make pitches and you’ve got to get outs.”
But Richards is still taking the long view with some confidence that he’ll put it together.
“Obviously, I want to do better and pitch better, but it’s a constant grind,” he said. “Throughout the year, you’re going to have good stretches, bad stretches, times when you need to change things. I’ll get with [pitching coach Dave] Bush tomorrow to see what we can improve.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.