By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Things are different right now, for a variety of reasons. But Boston is still a difficult place for a lot of athletes to play.READ MORE: Verdugo, Red Sox Rally From 4 Down, Top Blue Jays 6-5 In 9th
Garrett Richards was in the process of learning that in late April. Making his fourth start of the year on a chilly night in front of Boston fans for just the second time, Richards put forth a dreadful outing against the Blue Jays, his second dud in as many home starts for the 32-year-old. He got hit hard, he walked six people, and he couldn’t make it through the fifth inning. After that night, Richards was 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA. His ERA at Fenway was 13.50.
The boos — even in a ballpark filled to 12 percent capacity — were noticeable. And Richards spent his postgame press conference talking about how he’s never had to pack a jacket before in his life.
Suffice it to say, the fans in Boston were out. Sports radio was calling for him to be DFA’d, and many folks questioned Chaim Bloom’s wisdom in signing a pitcher who had pitched under 200 innings total in the past five years combined.
Some players might have wilted in that spot. But Richards made a change or two to his delivery, and what he’s done since then has been remarkably impressive.
His most recent effort came on Thursday night. Though that 8-1 win was mostly about the Red Sox’ offense, it was Richards’ work on the mound that ensured the game would never be in doubt.
Richards pitched six shutout innings against the A’s, scattering five hits and three walks while striking out four. He didn’t even face a real jam until his final inning, when he got Matt Chapman to ground into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
Despite the six shutout innings, Richards spoke of improvement on his walks after the start.
“Tonight was great,” he said, “but it could be better.”
READ MORE: Stream The Palmetto Championship
— Red Sox (@RedSox) May 14, 2021
Richards also flashed a little bit of fire, seemingly taking offense to Mark Canha sticking his elbow out over the plate to try to get hit by a curveball that broke into the zone and was called a strike. Richards showed his displeasure for the move … and then promptly put a 94 mph fastball directly under Canha’s chin.
Replay of Mark Canha and Garrett Richards exchange. pic.twitter.com/NlfRqpS7XH
— Justin Groc (@jgroc) May 14, 2021
Throwing at the head is obviously a no-no. But the response showed the level of competitive edge that was driving Richards, even during a 7-0 game.
Thursday’s work was merely the continuation of what has been two and a half weeks of excellent baseball. In his last four starts, Richards is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 1.160 WHIP, striking out 26 batters in 25 innings of work.
He’s allowed one run or fewer in three of those four starts, lowering his ERA from 6.48 on April 21 to 3.89 after Thursday night’s win.
Richards was happy to heap credit on Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush for helping him simplify a part of his windup.
“So there’s just, there was too much going on, so we just tried to eliminate the first step, and just kind of put myself in a good position to throw the baseball. For me now I just worry about getting my leg up, keeping my weight over my back side, and from there just throwing the baseball down the hill,” Richards said. “It’s awesome … It’s one thing to be able to be a smart pitching coach, but to be able to give me that information in a way that I can apply it, it’s kind of the next step. There’s plenty of people that know about pitching, but as far as translating the information in a way that a player can understand it and apply it, it’s huge. The fact that Bushy used to play baseball at the big league level and is a pretty easy-going guy for the most part, relates to me. So we kind of vibe off each other. … We’ve done a lot of work the last month. We feel like we’re in a good place right now.”
While the Red Sox still have more than 75 percent of their season left to play, what Richards has already done is worth acknowledging. He’s pitched 41.2 innings, already surpassing the 40-inning average he put forth while battling injuries from 2016-20. But more significantly, he shook off a nightmarish debut on Easter Sunday (six runs allowed in two innings) and decided to take action after a disappointing follow-up start at Fenway. Since then, he’s put in the work, and the results speak for themselves, as he now has the second-best ERA among Red Sox starters.
“He just kept working at his craft,” manager Alex Cora said. “He simplified his windup. He’s more direct to the plate. He’s making more competitive pitches. And good things happen when you do that.”
Thursday’s start came in a stopper-type situation, with the Red Sox facing a potential sweep at the hands of the A’s after losing three straight games this week for just the second time all season. The last time that happened, Richards was at fault for that third loss. This time, he made sure the streak didn’t get to four.MORE NEWS: Bergeron Going Year By Year With Career, Swayman 'Addicted' To Playoff Hockey, And Everything Else From Bruins' Final Press Conferences
Again, there’s a long way to go. But after some of us may have wondered aloud in April if Richards was cut out for this market, he’s provided a pretty firm response.