Richards made a big statement on Saturday, giving the Angels easily their best start of the spring with 6 1/3 innings of dominant, efficient one-run ball in a 5-1 win over the Brewers. His Cactus League ERA stands at 1.88 through 14 1/3 innings.
It seemed evident heading in, but it's crystal clear now: If the Angels are taking their best 12 arms into the season, Richards will be on the Opening Day roster.
But the quandary is ever-present.
The rotation is set, and two more outings should be enough for fifth starter Tommy Hanson to have enough stamina heading into the season, so Richards doesn't figure to start in the Majors. And he may not have a prominent role in the bullpen, even with Ryan Madson starting the season on the disabled list, with Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Sean Burnett all ahead of him in the pecking order.
Perhaps there's some benefit to Richards, who has options left, staying stretched out in the Minor Leagues in case something happens to one of the Angels' five starters.
Or perhaps it's not that complicated -- Richards is Major League-ready, and that's where he belongs.
"There's no doubt his arm plays well in the Major Leagues," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, without going into much detail. "We'll see what our roster looks like and we'll go from there."
Besides a couple of extra-base hits in the fourth, Richards was nearly perfect against the Brewers. He gave up one other hit -- an infield single -- struck out five and walked one. He needed only 77 pitches to go longer than any Angels starter has all spring, following it up with an extra 13 pitches in the bullpen to complete his work.
His stuff has always been good.
His mindset, however, is different.
"I can't stress enough how confident I am right now," Richards said. "When I get on the mound, I feel like I can dominate every game."
Richards was up and down last year, starting in Triple-A for the first two months, starting in the Majors for another two months, spending three more weeks in the Salt Lake Bees' rotation and finishing the year with 20 appearances out of the Angels' bullpen.
Richards, who finished 2012 with a 4.69 ERA in 71 big league innings, came into spring hoping for a consistent role. But more than anything, he just wanted to be in the big leagues.
It seems he's earned that right.
"I'm sure we'll find out here in the next couple of days," Richards said, "but I'm prepared for whatever happens. I can walk away from this Spring Training knowing I did everything possible."