TORONTO -- Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher sees a much more mature Garrett Richards these days, one who's not only finding consistency as a starting pitcher but also has a much better grasp of the process, focusing a lot less on the big picture of his role and a lot more on the minor adjustments that must be made on a start-to-start basis.
"It's the whole maturation process, really," Butcher said. "I think he's kind of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It's been small increments of building a foundation and watching it grow. I think he's buying into the fact that the little adjustments that he's going to make are going to end up in big results. Because he's always had the big power arm, he's always had the nice breaking ball. And, really, it's just fine-tuning some of those things."
Butcher points to Richards' Sept. 2 outing against the Rays as a perfect example.
Richards walked seven batters that night, and Butcher thinks that was the best thing that could've happened to him. Not because he overcame it with five innings of one-run ball, but because it only worked to re-emphasize the importance of making adjustments -- mainly staying upright, having good posture and repeating his delivery.
His next time out, against the Rangers on Saturday, Richards walked only one batter, retired 14 of his last 17, struck out the side in his final inning and completed seven innings with one earned run allowed.
And now, in nine starts since taking Joe Blanton's spot in the rotation, Richards -- the 25-year-old right-hander who battled inconsistency in his previous two stints as a Major League starter -- boasts a 2.96 ERA, essentially securing a spot on the 2014 staff.
"I think when you look at his whole career, for the most part, a lot of guys who come up here have five-, six-, seven-hundred innings under their belt. And he didn't have that luxury," Butcher said of Richards, who compiled 398 1/3 innings in the Minors. "So he's had to do a lot of stuff up here, which is really hard to do. It's tough to make some adjustments, but he's made some really, really good adjustments this year, both physically and mentally, and he's matured a lot."
Making surprising progress, Nelson may return soon
TORONTO -- When Chris Nelson strained his right hamstring on Aug. 28, his season was all but guaranteed to be over. Only four and a half weeks remained, and the injury was the same one that cost Peter Bourjos nearly six weeks on the shelf.
Now it looks like Nelson could be activated from the disabled list next week. He's fielding ground balls at third base, taking batting practice, can take part in agility drills and -- with Luis Jimenez still nursing soreness in his shoulders and thumbs -- only needs to run full speed before making his way back to the lineup.
It's the perfect case study in the unpredictability of the hamstring.
"It's a great bounce-back for him," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Hamstrings, like we say, have a mind of their own. You never know. You get some, they last for two months. You get some that look like they're going to be two months, and they're three weeks.
"He still has some work to do, might be about a week, but considering when he did it, you could've been looking at the whole season. He looks like he'll be in the earlier window of what a hamstring can be."
Eppard working to simplify Hamilton's approach
TORONTO -- Josh Hamilton has regained his form over this last month, batting .339 with four homers and 14 walks over a 29-game stretch heading into Wednesday's contest at Rogers Centre. But Angels hitting coach Jim Eppard believes more upside remains.
"It's been a year-long process," Eppard said. "I know I'm not completely where I want to be with him yet. That consistency isn't at the level that I think that he's [capable] of. In other words, I think there's more in there."
For Hamilton -- with a .243/.302/.429 slash line, 20 homers and 67 RBIs -- it all comes down to being "more comfortable and more consistent" with his swing and approach, Eppard believes. And that's particularly challenging for someone who has as many moving parts in his swing as Hamilton.
"To me, since there are so many moving parts, you just have to simplify things as much as you can," Eppard said. "So whatever he does, if you can get it simplified, then it's going to be easier to be consistent.
"We started two and a half, three months ago where it started to come on. But it's been at a snail's pace. That's the thing that's frustrating. But at the same time, you do know you're doing the right thing because there is progress being made. It just hasn't jumped as quickly as I was hoping it would."
Romine switching things up at plate
TORONTO -- It was halfway through the 2012 season when Angels infielder Andrew Romine, a natural righty who has been switch-hitting since his Little League days, decided he'd exclusively bat from the left side and see what happens.
"I just felt like I had a better swing left-handed," Romine said. "I couldn't finish my career without at least trying it. I had to give myself at least that. I had to figure it out."
That lasted about one year.
Midway through the 2013 season, Romine continued to have a hard time batting only left-handed and started switch-hitting again. That came after batting .275 in his final month in the Minors last year, then hitting .283 in Spring Training, hitting .130 in the Majors in April and batting just .250 at Triple-A Salt Lake in May and June.
It doesn't seem like a big change, particularly since most of Romine's plate appearances are still going to come from the left side against right-handed pitchers. But Romine says it's been "infinitely better" since he started switch-hitting again.
"It was weird, because it was kind of like the stress was gone," said Romine, who batted .327 in July in the Minors and had six hits in his last 17 at-bats with the Angels heading into Wednesday. "I am right-handed and learned how to hit left, so it's not like I could lose it. I do everything else right-handed. It's not like I was completely gone from it.
"There's no rocket science behind it. It just came down to the numbers."
• Angels ace Jered Weaver, who felt some stiffness in his right forearm during Monday's start against the Twins, played catch on Wednesday, is slated to throw a bullpen Thursday and is expected to take his next turn against the Astros on Saturday.
• Third baseman Luis Jimenez, nursing soreness in his right shoulder and right thumb since Saturday, took some swings on Wednesday but won't throw for another couple of days.
• Triple-A starter Matt Shoemaker (3-1, 3.00 ERA), Rookie League third baseman Cal Towey (.346 batting average, two homers and 13 RBIs) and Double-A infielder Jimmy Swift were named the Angels' Pitcher of the Month, Player of the Month and Defender of the Month for August, respectively.
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.