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In yet another example of his stunning turnaround, Garrett Richards overcomes a shaky start with a solid finish vs. the Blue Jays

Red Sox starting pitcher Garrett Richards sorted out some first-inning shakiness to settle down and deliver six solid innings in a 7-3 victory over the Blue Jays Wednesday night in Dunedin, Fla.Mike Carlson/Associated Press

Even with a 5-0 advantage before he stepped on the mound in the bottom of the first, it took just four batters and 17 pitches for Garrett Richards to immerse himself in trouble against the Blue Jays.

The righthander opened the first by walking Marcus Semien, then gave up resounding doubles to Bo Bichette (on which Semien took too wide a turn past third, resulting in a gifted out) and Vlad Guerrero Jr., before issuing another walk to Teoscar Hernández. Richards had given back one run but seemed in danger of yielding plenty more.

Pitching coach Dave Bush jogged out of the dugout, and after a quick conversation, Richards caught his breath. In six pitches, he was out of the inning with a fielder’s choice and strikeout.


“I just needed to take a deep breath,” said Richards. “[The meeting] was just about making pitches, stay out of the danger zone, and just try to get ahead of guys.”

From there, Richards settled into what has become typically strong form in a 7-3 Red Sox win over the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. He made it through 6⅔ innings while allowing just one more run, continuing what has been a drastic early-season about-face.

Richards had a 6.48 ERA with 13 walks and 12 strikeouts through four starts, averaging just over four innings. He needed to be better. He and Bush dove into his woes.

Richards adjusted his windup after his four rough starts, both creating less movement at the start of it and taking more time to gather over the rubber to sync his arm with his stride — a change that allowed him to attack the strike zone more reliably.

“That changed his career, making the windup shorter,” said catcher Christian Vázquez. “He didn’t know where the ball was going. Now, it’s good control, quiet. Attack the zone.”


In his last five starts, Garrett Richards is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA while averaging more than six innings.Will Newton/Associated Press

He’s also attacking the zone not just with his fastball and slider but also increasingly with a power curveball that is emerging as one of baseball’s best. The results have been dazzling. In his last five starts, Richards is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA while averaging more than six innings.

“It’s been great to see, and not just because it’s helped us win games,” said Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “We know that when somebody comes in who’s new to the organization, new to us, everybody’s intentions are going to be great, but it’s going to take some time not just to build the person-to-person relationships but to understand how to get the results we all want.

“To see everyone, including Garrett, really work at that, work together to find something that could help him be more effective, and then to have it happen, take it out there on the mound and get results quickly with it is such a good feeling for everyone involved.”

Richards is not alone in his evolution since joining the Red Sox. Nick Pivetta likewise has consistently elevated his fastball at the top of the strike zone — where it’s most effective — and turned his slider from an afterthought into a primary weapon.

“His best pitch,” said Vázquez. “I’ll call that slider anytime.”

Martín Pérez, too, has been a different pitcher in his two seasons with the Sox than he was before joining them, scaling back his sinker and increasing the use of his changeup and cutter.


Those changes reflect behind-the-scenes work between the rotation members, Bush, bullpen coach Kevin Walker, and gameplanning coordinator Jason Varitek. The group’s combined efforts have played a huge role in the Sox’ sustained run atop the American League East.

A group of starters that entered the year with modest expectations has exceeded them. The rotation has a solid 3.96 ERA, sixth best in the A.L., while delivering a major league-high 37 starts of at least five innings.

Members of the team credit the communication of the pitching braintrust as critical to that performance. Successful coaches have to distill the terabytes of available information about how to help pitchers perform at their best into a few digestible morsels.

Moreover, they have to earn the trust of their pitchers not by telling them how to pitch but by listening to their feedback and jointly setting a course. Whereas Pivetta, for instance, sometimes was at odds with the Phillies when they tried to tweak his approach, he’s bought into the messaging of the Red Sox to find a path to early-season success.

Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush, center, has played a sizable role in the recent success of Garrett Richards.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“This is not an easy staff,” said manager Alex Cora, noting the disparate plans of attack of the five rotation members. “[Bush has] been really good about simplifying stuff . . . It’s not that complicated as far as gameplanning, mechanics, and all that. I’m very happy with the way he has [communicated]. The chemistry they have is pretty solid.”


That chemistry has contributed to the team’s strong start. So, too, has the health of the rotation — whose members have remained on turn since Eduardo Rodriguez was activated for the seventh game of the season.

Of course, there will be struggles ahead — and there are concerns about the team’s depth. Primary rotation depth option Tanner Houck (flexor muscle) is throwing on flat ground but not yet off a mound. There is promise with Chris Sale, who has thrown off the mound “several times with increasing intensity,” according to Bloom, though the lefthander still has yet to face hitters in live batting practice.

Still, while both struggles and depth tests are inevitable, for the Red Sox, the promise of the early season has been not just in the team’s record but also in the evidence that the team’s starters and coaches can work together to identify ways of fixing what goes awry while trying to unlock new levels of success.

“I’m kind of growing into a complete pitcher I guess you would say,” said Richards. “I’m just excited about coming out every day, trying to learn something new, trying to figure out something in my delivery that is going to make me better. Bushy has a lot to do with it. We’re gelling well right now, a lot of information out there, a lot of good communication . . . I’m excited about being able to get to that next level.”

Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed from Dunedin, Fla.


Alex Speier can be reached at Follow him @alexspeier.