Seeking spot on staff, Richards makes big statement
Despite impressive spring, Angels right-hander may begin season at Triple-A
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Garrett Richards was asked if he feels he's done enough to make the Angels' staff out of Spring Training, and before the sentence could be finished, the 24-year-old right-hander already had his answer.
"I do," Richards said. "I do. I feel like I've done everything I can possibly do."
Richards made a big statement on Saturday, giving the Angels easily their best start of the spring with 6 1/3 innings of dominant, efficient one-run ball in a 5-1 win over the Brewers. His Cactus League ERA stands at 1.88 through 14 1/3 innings.
It seemed evident heading in, but it's crystal clear now: If the Angels are taking their best 12 arms into the season, Richards will be on the Opening Day roster.
But the quandary is ever-present.
The rotation is set, and two more outings should be enough for fifth starter Tommy Hanson to have enough stamina heading into the season, so Richards doesn't figure to start in the Majors. And he may not have a prominent role in the bullpen, even with Ryan Madson starting the season on the disabled list, with Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Sean Burnett all ahead of him in the pecking order.
Perhaps there's some benefit to Richards, who has options left, staying stretched out in the Minor Leagues in case something happens to one of the Angels' five starters.
Or perhaps it's not that complicated -- Richards is Major League-ready, and that's where he belongs.
"There's no doubt his arm plays well in the Major Leagues," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, without going into much detail. "We'll see what our roster looks like and we'll go from there."
Besides a couple of extra-base hits in the fourth, Richards was nearly perfect against the Brewers. He gave up one other hit -- an infield single -- struck out five and walked one. He needed only 77 pitches to go longer than any Angels starter has all spring, following it up with an extra 13 pitches in the bullpen to complete his work.
His stuff has always been good.
His mindset, however, is different.
"I can't stress enough how confident I am right now," Richards said. "When I get on the mound, I feel like I can dominate every game."
Richards was up and down last year, starting in Triple-A for the first two months, starting in the Majors for another two months, spending three more weeks in the Salt Lake Bees' rotation and finishing the year with 20 appearances out of the Angels' bullpen.
Richards, who finished 2012 with a 4.69 ERA in 71 big league innings, came into spring hoping for a consistent role. But more than anything, he just wanted to be in the big leagues.
It seems he's earned that right.
"I'm sure we'll find out here in the next couple of days," Richards said, "but I'm prepared for whatever happens. I can walk away from this Spring Training knowing I did everything possible."
Wells makes rare spring start in right field
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Vernon Wells got a rare start in right field for the Angels on Saturday, only his second of the spring at a position where he's spent less than two percent of his career innings.
In the reserve role he figures to be in this season, playing both outfield corners is a must for the 34-year-old.
"That's always been the case -- I've always been able to just play wherever," said Wells, who has frequently situated himself in right field during batting practice to get used to reading balls off the bat. "[Right field is] not an issue. It's just a matter of if guys need a day, just be ready to play, anywhere and everywhere. I don't think I'm going to be playing much in center field because we have two guys there [Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout]."
All indications point to Bourjos being an everyday player again in 2013, but how much rope he'll get -- and thus how much playing time Wells will receive -- is still a bit hazy with camp breaking in four days.
For what it's worth -- and probably not a whole lot -- Wells has a .394/.421/.788 slash line while starting 14 games this spring, including Saturday's. Bourjos has a .318/.388/.591 line and has started 15 games, including Saturday's.
Early on, after the Angels come out of their opening Interleague series in Cincinnati, Wells figures to fill in a couple of times a week. But that could be a fluid situation.
"Vernon definitely has an opportunity to contribute," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday. "The way he's swinging the bat now is very impressive, and there's some days you might see Bourjos and Wells in the same lineup if guys need a day here or there. Vernon's been very candid about the situation, the challenge in front of him. He's embracing it and we'll see where it leads."
Amid another hot spring, Kendrick stays on even keel
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Howie Kendrick's 16-game spring hitting streak was snapped on Friday, then he promptly began a new one Saturday, lining a triple into the right-center-field gap in his first plate appearance and finishing the day with a Cactus League batting average of .481.
It's been a typical Spring Training for the Angels' second baseman, with a high success rate that he's quick to put into perspective.
"I'm not complaining about having a good spring, but at the same time, it is spring," said Kendrick, who has hit in the .300 range each of his previous six springs.
The annually successful Cactus League performance, Kendrick said, is "just coincidence, I guess."
"I'm just trying to see pitches, to be honest with you," he added. "Guys are making mistakes. During the season, everybody's fine-tuned and it takes pitchers a little longer to get to where the hitters are."
As his career has progressed, the 29-year-old Kendrick -- with a .284/.325/.423 slash line the last three years -- has learned to stay on an even keel.
And some of that growth has come from Albert Pujols.
As an infielder, Kendrick is always in the same hitting group as the disciplined, routine-fixated Pujols, who can treat batting practice like the World Series and never wavers. His biggest takeaway from Pujols is something Kendrick himself takes pride in: "He's a hitter with power."
"If you watch his first few rounds of BP, it's all middle-right side," Kendrick said of Pujols. "He's just trying to drive the ball to the gaps and things like that. He's got the ability to hit the home runs when he wants to, but I think I'm more impressed with his approach and his ability to just be a hitter first."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.