Chris Richard is doing whatever it takes to get an edge. With the bases loaded in the ninth inning on Thursday, however, he didn't need much help from anyone.
The former Major Leaguer went 4-for-6 and capped a career night with a grand slam off a second baseman-turned-reliever as the Durham Bulls trounced the Richmond Braves, 17-3, at The Diamond.
Richard singled and scored in the second and, after the Bulls batted around, capped the eight-run inning with a bases-loaded triple. He singled in the sixth and launched a two-out grand slam in the ninth off Braves second baseman Derrick Arnold.
Richard, who wears a corrective contact lens in his left eye during games and has been hitting wiffle-golf balls before games, said he wasn't about to keep the bat on his shoulder against an infielder.
"It's a little bit different facing a guy like that. There is a tendency to lose some focus there," Richard said of facing Arnold, who went 2-for-3 at the plate before taking the mound. "I've thrown away at-bats this year I wish I could get back. You can't give away any at bats -- each one flows into the next one."
Richard, by his own advice, has been flowing pretty well lately -- the 34-year-old first baseman has five homers and 17 RBIs in his last six games. He homered twice and had five RBIs on May 17 against Charlotte, a day after going deep and plating three runs against Toledo. He homered again on Wednesday in the first game of a doubleheader and fell a double shy of the cycle against Richmond.
"We'd been hitting the ball around all day and they brought in their second baseman, so I was just trying not to strike out," said Richard. "He got two strikes on me pretty quickly, so I was trying to put the ball in play."
And he quickly sent the ball out of play. Richard's seventh homer of the season raised his average to .324.
"Having an approach at the plate and having an idea of what I want to accomplish, I'm trying to stick to that and I've been pretty successful with that plan," he said. "I'm trying to put good swings on it every time, and sometimes it goes this way. I feel real comfortable right now."
Richard revealed some of his secrets to plate comfort. He hits plastic golf balls out of a custom pitching machine, uses a Power Pad on his bat and has begun wearing a contact lens in one eye after donning glasses late last season because of dim lighting at Richmond.
With seven RBIs at The Diamond on Thursday, Richard appears to be seeing clearly again.
"The Power Pad has added leverage, feels more comfortable to me," he said. "It's been a big help. The pitching machine shoots out little wiffle-golf balls and it's helped me out a lot. I'd always had a little trouble seeing the ball in Richmond."
The 34-year-old has not appeared in the Majors since playing 19 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2003. He hit .265 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs in his only full big league season in 2001 with Baltimore.
The career night at the plate capped a wicked hot streak for Richard. The contending Rays are sure to be keeping tabs on their Triple-A slugger.
"I'd like to get back to the Majors, of course, but things have to fall into the right place," said Richard. "There's quality players everywhere. If I'm fortunate enough to get a chance, I want to make the most of out that opportunity. But I know how it works -- if something happens, I can fill in. And I hope they put me in the mix. I hope I can put myself in that position."
Richard, the Cardinals' 19th-round pick in 1995, has bounced between the Minors and several Major League clubs over a 14-year career. He was one of seven Bulls with more than two hits on a night when Durham totaled 22, an International League season-high.
Former second-round pick Mitch Talbot (5-3) didn't need all that support as he struck out seven over eight shutout frames to pick up the win. He allowed five hits and did not walk a batter.
"He pitched awesome. Sometimes in games like this, you relax, but he didn't, he dominated," Richard said of Talbot. "He had his cutter working and broke a lot of bats. He's hitting his spots and pitching real well for us lately. He's got some good stuff and when he's on, he's of the best."
Richmond's Brad Nelson (0-1) was slammed in his first start of the season. The former 10th-rounder surrendered eight runs on 10 hits over 1 2/3 innings.
Danny Wild is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.