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Dan Shaughnessy

Garrett Richards’s problematic start against the lowly Royals raised more questions than it answered

The umpires made sure Garrett Richards was pitching clean on Monday night against Kansas City, and the adjustment to the substance crackdown across the league appears to have hit the righty hard.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

What are the Red Sox going to do about Garrett Richards?

Does he get another start? Is he banished to the bullpen? Would he be willing to pitch at Polar Park for a while? Or are the Sox fine watching him learn how to pitch in games that count?

In the last two weeks it has been established that Richards can’t pitch effectively without applying foreign substance to the baseball. As a result, we are watching a 33-year-old professional athlete making $10 million per year try to re-learn his craft during the major league season.

All the good feeling from the Sox weekend dismantling of the Yankees dissolved early Monday when Richards gave up three homers before getting five outs in the series opener with the Kansas City Royals at Fenway.

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KC came into the night with five straight losses, ranking 12th in the American League in runs scored and 14th in homers. This did not matter against Richards. Whit Merrifield led off the night with a single up the middle, Jorge Soler singled sharply to right on an 0-2 pitch, then Carlos Santana crushed an 0-2 curveball (which did nothing) far over the right field bullpens. It was 3-0 before you could say, “Oye como va.”

Two of the first three Royal batters in the second also homered. By the time tired Sox center fielder Kiké Hernández ran down a flyball (which would have landed in the bullpen) to end the second, the Sox trailed, 5-1.

Richards settled down the next three innings, largely abandoning his fastball and the scalding hot Red Sox clawed back to tie. It was still tied, 5-5, when Richards left with two outs in the sixth, having given up 11 hits. The Sox were hoping for their 26th come-from-behind win. In his last five starts, Richards has allowed 52 baserunners in 21⅔ innings with an 8.30 ERA.

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Did we see Richards figure things out Monday, when the Red Sox ultimately won, 6-5, or was it just a case of good fortune to be facing the salami-bat Royals?

Richards has repeatedly told us that the enforcement of an age-old baseball rule, no foreign substances, has made him incapable of pitching in the big leagues. He can’t use the sticky stuff anymore and he never learned to pitch without it.

“It pretty much changed everything for me,” Richards said a couple of starts ago. “I feel like I need to be a different pitcher than I have been the last nine and a half years . . . I’m just grateful I got this far into my career before we’re at this point. Maybe I’ll have to develop another pitch.”

Garrett Richards didn't get out of the second inning against the Rays last Wednesday, and appeared unlikely to do so on Monday against Kansas City until he turned it around.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Richards’ last win was May 19. In his first four starts after it was learned MLB was going to crack down on Spider Tack and other substances, Richards gave up 29 hits, nine walks and hit three batters in 16 innings. That’s an ERA of 8.43, with 41 baserunners in 16 innings.

The Sox were optimistic before Monday’s outing.

“He’s been working on it,” said manager Alex Cora. “He feels like he’s in a good place. Honestly, going into this one I do believe from his standpoint he feels comfortable with where he is at. I think the mechanical adjustments are going to help him, too. It’s going to help him where he’s not rushing his delivery. Let’s see where it takes him But we do feel comfortable with him going into this one.

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I had to ask . . . is the problem in Richards’ head?

“To be honest with you, he’s been talking about it less in between starts,” Cora said. “He did mention some things to you guys after the Braves start and after the last one, but in this one it’s been more like him saying, ‘I feel good about my breaking ball. I feel good about my mechanics.’ He should be OK.”

He was not OK early. Richards’ spin rate was way down again and he threw frisbee curveballs, one which was clocked at 63 miles per hour. Between the second and third innings, Richard dropped his right arm into a bucket of ice water and kept it there for 30 seconds. It seemed to help. He did not allow a run in the third, fourth or fifth, and was at 85 pitches after five.

Boston is a bad fit for Richards. He is here on a one-year contract with a club option. He had some serviceable starts before it was announced the rules were going to be enforced, but now he is working on new things in big league games. How long can the Red Sox afford to let him do this?


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.