Angels pitching prospect Garrett Richards wasn't at his best Monday night, but he was still good enough to win his Texas League-leading 11th decision of the year.
The 23-year-old allowed two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out four over nine innings in the Double-A Arkansas Travelers' 5-2 win over the Tulsa Drillers. It was his third complete game of the year.
"I felt pretty good. I know that when things go bad I can just deep a deep breath, relax and know that one run isn't going to beat me," the former first-round Draft pick said.
Richards (11-1) has gone the distance in three of his last nine outings and he leads the Texas League with 128 innings pitched. He trails only Arkansas hurler Matt Shoemaker (five) for the most complete games, but insists his body is holding up well despite the increased workload from a year ago.
"This time of the season I go through a bit of fatigue, but I'm feeling like I'm starting to get my legs and body and back under me again," said Richards, who threw 143 innings over 26 starts last season. "I feel like I'm only getting stronger. I'm staying on top of my strength and weightlifting programs and I owe a lot of my success to our trainers."
Since moving up to Double-A at the start of the year, the Texas League midseason All-Star has followed a structured conditioning regime to keep him on track to pitch every fifth day. He says that has greatly improved his endurance on the mound.
The Angels' No. 4 prospect goes on a low-intensity "flush run" the day after a start and then throws a short bullpen session on the second day. The third day is spent tossing a full bullpen session followed by upper or lower body work, and he plays catch and runs the day before a scheduled outing.
The benefits of his off-day workouts proved valuable Monday when he got better as the game wore on, despite temperatures that hovered just below 100 degrees for the majority of the game.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander used an inning-ending double play to erase a hit batter in the first inning, and he escaped unscored upon in the second frame when catcher Orlando Mercado picked off Hector Gomez off first base following back-to-back singles. Tim Wheeler put Tulsa on the board with his 29th homer, a solo homer in the third, and Brian Rike helped the Drillers reestablish their lead when his RBI single plated Gomez from second base in the fifth.
From there, Richards settled down, allowing just one more hit over the final four frames and retiring the final eight batters he faced.
"I threw the ball down in the zone and I mixed my speeds," said Richards, selected 42nd overall in the 2009 Draft. "I usually rely on my fastball -- four- and two-seam -- but my slider was really good tonight and my change-up helped set up the other two pitches.
"It's always nice to save the bullpen, especially considering we have three important games coming up in Springfield."
The California native has pitched at least seven innings in 10 of his 19 appearances and he ranks among the league leaders in a number of statistical categories. He is holding hitters to a .229 average, second to Shoemaker (.215), his 3.23 ERA ranks fourth and his 89 strikeouts are fifth-best.
"The catchers, [Wilin] Rosario and Mercado, have been calling great games, the guys have been swinging the bats well and any time I have been in a pinch, my defense has turned a big double play," he explained. "Now I'm looking to finish strong and hopefully win a ring."
On Monday, Roberto Lopez homered twice and plated three runs for the Travelers and Matt Cusick and Darwin Perez also went deep.
Former sixth-rounder Cory Riordan (1-10) lost his eighth straight decision for the Drillers, surrendering three runs on nine hits while striking out one over six innings.