Take Sunday, for example. Richards pitched six scoreless innings and gave up only three hits in the Angels' 5-2 win over the Indians, but he struck out just two batters. What he did do a lot of was generate early contact that resulted in weak ground balls. Not as flashy as the strikeout, but much better for pitch efficiency and getting deep into games.
"It's the best," Richards said of early contact. "I really started to focus on that in Double-A. When I started throwing my sinker and getting early contact and getting deeper into games, that's when my game evolved."
Richards throws two different fastballs in the mid-90s and backs it up with a plus slider and breaking ball -- but he's never really been a high-strikeout guy.
In four seasons in the Minors, Richards struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings (including 6.5 at Double-A in 2011). In 230 innings in the Majors, spread out over three seasons, it's 6.1 (the Major League average last year was 7.57). But Richards doesn't care how his outs come, as long as they do.
On a staff that features two guys with historically high walk rates in C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago, and a 22-year-old in Tyler Skaggs, pitch efficiency from Richards will be crucial.
"Early in the Minor Leagues, I would punch out a guy an inning," Richards said. "Once I got to Double-A, my strikeout numbers went down, but my ERA and wins were up. I went deeper into games. I wouldn't say I'm not a strikeout pitcher, but guys put the ball in play early and often, which I'm fine with. It keeps the guys in the field on their toes and keeps me deeper into games."
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.