ANAHEIM -- The sample size may be quite small, and a few weeks still remain before a decision must be made, but this may already be a relevant question: Can the Angels afford not to keep Garrett Richards in their rotation?
It's not just that he's pitching well -- Richards is the only Angels starter to record an out in the seventh, and he's done so in both of his starts -- it's that he has the best stuff on the staff. In a rotation made up of pitch-to-contact guys, Richards offers an important variation, with an explosive arsenal that can consistently rack up strikeouts.
"He has the potential to do what he's done the first couple starts," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday after Richards pitched seven shutout innings against the loaded Tigers, striking out eight, walking none and giving up two hits. "We'll see where it leads."
Going back to the start of Spring Training, Richards has given up eight earned runs in 36 1/3 innings (1.98 ERA).
Richards, still more than a month away from his 25th birthday, established good command of his four-seam, mid-90s fastball and slider while serving as a reliever to start the season. Since being moved to the rotation when Jered Weaver went out with an elbow injury, he's expanded his repertoire once more, reintroducing the cutter, changeup and 12-to-6 curveball.
His curve, which usually has a 17-mph difference from his fastball, has been an inconsistent pitch for him in the past, but he had it working on Saturday. He threw only six of them, but two were strikes to Prince Fielder, one was a called strike on Victor Martinez and the other resulted in a groundout by Jhonny Peralta.
"That's a pitch that's only going to help me out, throwing that in there 0-2, or throwing it [as a first pitch]," Richards said. "It's a pitch that guys have to respect if I continue to throw it for a strike."
Another reason for Richards' evolution as a starting pitcher: His delivery. It used to be very herky-jerky, probably contributing to his 4.3 walks-per-nine rate in 85 Major League innings from 2011-12. But pitching coach Mike Butcher has helped him be quieter going towards the plate.
"It has allowed me to have a more squared delivery, which means I can be more consistent with all my pitches, whether that's the changeup, the curveball, the slider, whatever," Richards said. "My delivery and rhythm is really comfortable for me. It's allowed me to throw the ball out in front and be a little bit more consistent."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.