Garrett Richards sat at his postgame presser Wednesday searching for answers.
He was just a week removed from his last start against the Braves when the righthander intimated that he didn’t have a grip on the baseball. He lasted just four innings, allowing six runs (four earned). Richards threw 84 pitches, none of which were curveballs, a pitch that has defined Richards’s career because of its high spin rate.
But Major League Baseball’s crackdown on the use of illegal substances on the baseball — which included sunscreen, something Richards said he’s used throughout his career — led to a lack of feel for his curveball.
The feel wasn’t there in this start against the Rays either. Nor was the grip, frankly, on a season that has sputtered as of recent for Richards.
The Sox starter lasted just 1⅔ innings in an 8-2 loss to the Rays. Once Richards plunked Randy Arozarena with a 2-2 curveball with two outs in the second, manager Alex Cora threw the towel.
Richards got shellacked for five runs — four earned — against a Tampa Bay team that had hit just .202 during their six-game skid entering Wednesday.
“I’m going through a little transition period right now,” Richards said afterward. “Changing some grips on some of my pitches, learning new pitches. You know, just trying to figure this whole thing out. I’m still determined to figure it out.”
Cora said that Richards’s fastball is playing more like a cutter. “He’s got to commit to making some changes,” said pitching coach Dave Bush. “That’s the best way I can put it.”
Richards, who sounded discouraged after his start against the Braves, said he expected to turn his season around.
“I’m an athlete,” Richards said. “I’d like to think that I’m going to be able to get over this and figure out a way to get it done. [The rule change] was kind of this, just kind of got brought on us real quick. So I’ve only had about a week to work on it.”
The four earned runs off Richards all came by the homer. Austin Meadows blasted a two-run shot in the first inning that gave the Rays a 2-1 lead. Then in the second, a two-run homer to left by Mike Zunino extended the Rays’ lead. Richards didn’t register a strikeout.
In his last three starts, Richards has more walks (seven) than strikeouts (six). During the three-game span, Richards has pitched just 11 innings, yielding a jarring 21 hits and 15 runs (12 earned), and a 6.51 ERA in his last six starts.
That should be a concern for the Red Sox.
There are more concerns, however. Richards didn’t shy away from curveball this time. He threw it 11 times, but just three were for strikes. His spin rate, which ranks among the best in the game, was down 534 revolutions per minute. His slider spin rate dropped by 216 RPMs.
“We’re not talking about an overhaul here,” Bush said. “I think it’s just an adjustment to different circumstances right now.”
Brandon Workman took over for Richards and worked 1⅓ scoreless innings. Yacksel Riós and Josh Taylor continued that trend. Rios submitted two shutout innings and Taylor extended his scoreless streak to 21 games with a scoreless sixth.
The Sox had no answers for starter Rich Hill in his five innings. The only run the Sox scored against the lefthander came in the first inning when Xander Bogaerts singled through the right side.
The Sox scored their second run of the game on a Christian Vázquez single in the eighth. But by that time, the game was seemingly over after Brandon Lowe belted a three-run homer to center field off reliever Matt Andriese in the seventh.
Meanwhile, MLB’s ruling on sticky stuff came to the surface in the ninth inning. The Sox noticed some discoloration on the hat of Rays reliever Diego Castillo, forcing him to change to a new one.
Cora met with the umpires after the game to get more information on the situation.
“I just want to make sure that this is how it’s going to be,” Cora said. “And they explained to me the whole thing.”
Moving forward, though, the Sox have questions regarding their own starter in Richards. Are his most recent outings an indication of the type of pitcher he will be for this Red Sox club?
”I feel like I need to be a different pitcher than I was the last 9½ years,” Richards said.