By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Last week, in his first start after MLB’s intense crackdown on pitchers’ use of sticky substance, a frustrated Garrett Richards said that his job as an athlete was to simply figure it out. Two innings into his outing on Monday night at Fenway Park, he was doing a very bad job of that.READ MORE: Red Sox Fall To 2nd Place In AL East With 9-5 Loss To Rays
Enter Richards’ savior: A bucket of ice.
Between innings, the veteran right-hander was seen dipping his entire arm into a cooler full of ice in the Boston dugout. Though it looked to be an unorthodox move, it might have saved his night. After allowing three runs before even recording an out and allowing five runs though 1.1 innings, Richards managed to hold the Royals scoreless for the final 3.1 innings of his night. It was just enough to aid the Red Sox to a 6-5 victory — one that didn’t seem at all possible in the first few innings.
“I just need to stop sweating,” Richards said when asked why he went for the mid-game ice bath on his throwing arm. “If I can stop sweating, everything will be fine. But I’m a guy that sweats a whole lot. So just trying to work around the new rules and things that we have right now. Trying to figure out different ways for me to be successful. That was what was asked of us to do, and so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
— Adam Pellerin (@adampellerin) June 29, 2021
Richards said the effect of the ice is temporary — “Just, your arm stops sweating for a short period of time” — but the results were significant. After allowing three straight hits — the last of which was a three-run homer — to start the game and then serving up two more solo homers in the second inning, Richards was extremely effective.
Garrett Richards vs. Kansas City
First 10 batters: 6 H, 5 ER, 3 HR, 1 K, 0 BB
Final 17 batters: 5 H, 0 ER, 0 HR, 2 K, 0 BB
Obviously, that wasn’t due entirely due to the ice. But it seemed to have offered just enough help to get Richards back on track.READ MORE: Revolution Defeat New York Red Bulls 3-2 For 4th Straight Win
“I developed a little bit more of a feel as the game went on,” Richards said. “Early on, I was just kind of in between, didn’t finish off a couple two-strike pitches. Just kind of slipped out of my hand. Just going out there and competing, trying to give us the best chance to win, not quitting, and just grinding, man. That’s all I’ve been doing.”
Despite the help from that cooldown, Richards’ spin rates were down significantly for the second straight start. Per Baseball Savant, his curveball was 518 rpm down from the season average, while his fastball dropped 231 RPM off the season average.
While the numbers may be staggering, Richards said he learned a changeup in between starts and debuted that on Monday, while his curveball vs. the Royals was essentially a new pitch entirely.
“I’m figuring it out. I’m starting to throw a changeup now. Learned that this week in about three days,” Richards said. “And then now I’m throwing a curveball at about 60 miles an hour, which is different for me. Just trying to figure out how to pitch again, man. You know, stay in the zone, be competitive, give us a chance to win. That’s the only thing I care about.”
Manager Alex Cora was patient through those first couple of innings, opting to keep Richards in the game despite the trio of long balls. That patience was rewarded with the scoreless outing thereafter.
“It didn’t look good the first few innings, but there’s something about this level, or any level — Little League, college, minor leagues, big leagues — you gotta compete with what you have. It doesn’t matter. And he was competing from the get-go,” Cora said after the 6-5 win. “Obviously the offense picked him up, but the fact that he went five and two-thirds, it didn’t look great in the beginning, but he didn’t quit. He kept going and he put zeros at the end, gave us a chance. … The fact that he, it didn’t matter, he threw a breaking ball at 68, he started throwing changeups and sinkers. Just tried to find a way, and that’s the way it works. Sometimes you’re gonna have your A stuff, sometimes you’re gonna feel great, and sometimes you’re gonna be just a regular pitcher with no stuff and you gotta find a way to do it. And he did.”
That being said, Cora’s sticking with Richards had less to do with a premonition or gut feeling than it did with the fact that the manager knew he had to give his bullpen some level of reprieve after a taxing weekend vs. the Yankees.
“No. Where we were, no. We needed at least four,” Cora said when asked if he contemplated removing his starter early. “Sometimes you gotta just struggle through whatever and give up as many runs, it doesn’t matter. But where we are pitching-wise, we needed him to go deeper than two innings. That’s the reality of it. He knows that. He’s been around. So I never kind of like asked [pitching coach Dave Bush], ‘What do we got?’ or ‘pick up the phone.’ I had a feeling that we had a chance to come back, the way that the ballpark was playing early on. And it was just a matter of holding them down. And he did.”
For Richards — a guy whose elite spin rate was lauded as one of the primary reasons for the Red Sox’ interest in him this past offseason — the crackdown has no doubt been challenging. That’s not to say he was using an illegal substance — we don’t know that — but with the league simply banning any and all substances from being used, many pitchers league-wide are struggling to adapt.
The results last week were rough, and Monday night began the same. But as promised, Richards put it upon himself to simply figure it out.MORE NEWS: Chris Sale Tosses 5 Strong Innings, Strikes Out 7 In Rehab Start With Worcester
“No, I’ve never had to make this kind of change in my whole career,” he said. “So I’m just trying to make the best of it and, like I said, give us a chance to win.”