7/29/2014 7:50 P.M. ET
Richards adding velocity to pitching arsenal
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
BALTIMORE -- Garrett Richards didn't necessarily do anything different this offseason. He didn't start throwing earlier, or later. He didn't work out more, or less. And he didn't hit some unforeseen growth spurt.
But for some reason, he's throwing harder, in a year that saw Richards transition from part-time reliever to full-time starter.
Richards' average fastball velocity this season is 96.3 mph, second-fastest among qualifying starting pitchers (trailing only Yordano Ventura of the Royals) and nearly two full ticks faster than last year's mark (94.8 mph). It's a big reason why the 26-year-old right-hander is 11-3 with a 2.62 ERA and has immersed himself into the conversation for the American League Cy Young Award.
Pitchers typically throw harder as short-inning relievers because they can go max effort every pitch. But the predictable, five-day routine of a starting pitcher has paved the way for Richards to strengthen his arm throughout the season.
"I feel like that's been the biggest adjustment for me this year -- being in the rotation, having it set when I'm going to pitch, me having an idea of what I need to do in between starts, spending more time in the gym, little stuff like that," Richards said. "Going back and forth from the bullpen to the starting rotation, it's a lot of throwing, it's a lot of inconsistent rest. A lot of things go into play being in the bullpen.
"This is probably the same velocity I had in Double-A as a starter in 2011. The whole year, I would sit right where I'm at right now. After that, I started going back from the bullpen to the rotation, and lack of consistency in a routine -- you just can't do as much as a bullpen guy. You don't know if you're going to throw that day or not. Being in the rotation, I can lift in between. That's what I credit it to."
Wilson says hip tightness hurt his mechanics
BALTIMORE -- C.J. Wilson believes he's figured out the reason why he struggled so much from June 24 to July 9, and it has very little to do with the right ankle sprain that has him on the disabled list.
It's Wilson's hip, specifically on the left side. Tightness in the area limited the veteran left-hander's range of motion, slightly altering his delivery and not allowing him to finish pitches effectively. Wilson said his left hip "was really messed up. It had the affect of dragging the ball back over the middle of the plate, which is bad. That's where they hit the ball."
Wilson noticed the mechanical flaw it caused while rehabbing the injury, worked out some kinks with physical therapist Bernard Li, and he believes it's "way better now."
"The sharpness of the breaking ball is the biggest thing," Wilson said. "I can get all the way extended. And velocity was a lot easier to come by."
Wilson felt that difference while throwing 81 pitches in his first -- and potentially only -- rehab start for Double-A Arkansas on Monday night. The Angels' No. 2 starter gave up two runs in 5 1/3 innings, scattering four hits, walking two and striking out seven.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia didn't want to commit to anything before Wilson completes his normal between-starts bullpen, but Wilson nonetheless looks lined up to rejoin the rotation over the weekend, against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Scioscia said the Angels didn't notice anything "totally out of whack" in Wilson's delivery while he struggled through a 10.26 ERA in his last four starts before landing on the DL. But Wilson believes the renewed range of motion in his hip could make all the difference.
"Totally," Wilson said. "I had been trying to find out what it was and there was nothing I could find. ... I lost so much [flexibility] that I lost total use of my left leg in the delivery."
Trout fondly recalls catch to rob O's Hardy
BALTIMORE -- Mike Trout walked onto the field early Tuesday afternoon and made eye contact with Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who immediately pointed to the center-field fence and drew a laugh from the Angels' center fielder.
Every time Trout comes to Orioles Park at Camden Yards, that June 27, 2012, catch -- when he leaped about three feet above the wall to take one away from Hardy -- is a major talking point.
"Talk to him all the time and he always brings it up," Trout said of Hardy, who was also robbed by former Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos in 2013. "It's one I'll always remember, for sure."
Camden Yards is only a two-hour drive from Trout's hometown of Millville, N.J., but the 22-year-old only left about 15 tickets and doesn't anticipate anywhere near the following that went to Philadelphia in mid-May, when nearly 8,000 Millville residents showed up to Citizens Bank Park.
Chances are they won't see a catch as good as the one Trout made here a couple years ago; a catch even Trout himself will have a hard time topping.
"It's only my third year," Trout said, "but it's going to be tough for sure."
Scioscia still big believer in divisional play
BALTIMORE -- A lot of season remains and a lot can still happen, but if the schedule ended today, the Angels would easily have the second-best record in the Majors -- they were five games better than the third-place Tigers when play began on Tuesday -- and still their season would come down to one game.
It's the misfortune that comes with residing in the same American League West division as baseball's best team -- the A's, who the Angels trailed by 1 1/2 games entering Tuesday -- and it's the bad timing of playing in an era with two Wild Card teams in each league.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has long been a proponent of divisional play, believing division winners should have clear advantages over those that make the playoffs via the Wild Card. And the fact that his club is on the other side of that isn't making him change his stance.
"I think the weight that is on winning a division is warranted," Scioscia said prior to the series opener at Camden Yards. "I think that if you're going to have divisional baseball, you have to really make winning a division the first objective of any team that's contending. And if you don't quite reach that goal, and you play well enough, then you have the opportunity to work your way into the playoffs."
One alternative to a team running into the scenario the Angels are in is to extend the Wild Card to a three-game series, but Scioscia said that would penalize the division winners because they'd wait around too long.
"You will lose your edge, no doubt about it, with that much time off," he said.
Another would be to eliminate divisional play, which the longtime skipper doesn't like. And a more unconventional one would be to slice each league into four divisions, something Scioscia floated out as a possibility if more expansion takes place.
The ladder isn't necessarily feasible right now, which makes the current goal pretty simple.
"Win your division," Scioscia said. "Let's just put it that way."
• Josh Hamilton was moved from left field to designated hitter prior to Tuesday's game, but it wasn't injury related. The cleanup hitter had to fly to his native North Carolina to deal with a family emergency, barely slept, and felt he could benefit from getting off his feet. Hamilton said his left knee, which forced him to miss Saturday's game, is "pretty close to being 100 percent."
• Former Angels closer Troy Percival has been named head baseball coach at UC Riverside, the four-time All-Star's alma mater. Percival was a catcher in his three years with the Highlanders and was taken by the Angels in the sixth round of the 1990 First-Year Player Draft, after his junior year. Now 44, Percival retired after the '09 season.
• The Angels were among the teams to attend a workout for Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo in Miami last weekend, but are not among those who have set up a private workout with the 27-year-old center fielder -- mainly because the Halos already have a long-term solution in center field.
• Utility man Grant Green (lower back strain) and outfielder Collin Cowgill (nasal fracture and broken right thumb) are rehabbing at the Angels' Spring Training facility while the team is on an eight-game road trip through Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. Both should be back within the next couple of weeks.
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.