SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When pitching coach Mike Butcher called Garrett Richards over the offseason to tell him Angels pitchers would be pushed harder from the get-go this spring, Richards had already been long-tossing.
The 25-year-old right-hander typically stretches himself out before he even arrives to camp, a big reason why his last two springs -- 3.54 ERA in 20 1/3 Cactus League innings in 2012, 1.45 ERA in 18 2/3 Cactus League innings in 2013 -- have been so effective.
"When I show up for Spring Training, I feel like I'm in midseason form," Richards said after breezing through three scoreless innings in his spring debut against the D-backs on Monday, giving up two hits, striking out two and walking none.
"We start out by throwing two, three innings, but basically I stretch myself out to that during the offseason anyway. So when I come in, and we start out early, it's really just me getting my work in. As far as the way I feel right now, I feel strong, feel comfortable, feel good."
This is a different spring for Richards, for no other reason than the fact that he doesn't have to win a job.
Richards solidified a spot in the Angels' rotation down the stretch last year, posting a 3.72 ERA in 13 starts. This spring, he's working on "trying not to be a max-effort guy" all the time, so he can conserve his best stuff for the later stages of the game.
But he also isn't taking anything for granted about his rotation standing.
"The last two years, I've competed for a spot, so I know what it's like to be on that end of the stick," Richards said. "I still have that same mentality that I do every Spring Training. Just because I'm in the rotation right now doesn't mean that I'll be in the rotation the rest of the year. So, I have to stay sharp to keep competing and continue to improve."
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.