Richards' average fastball velocity this season is 96.3 mph, second-fastest among qualifying starting pitchers (trailing only Yordano Ventura of the Royals) and nearly two full ticks faster than last year's mark (94.8 mph). It's a big reason why the 26-year-old right-hander is 11-3 with a 2.62 ERA and has immersed himself into the conversation for the American League Cy Young Award.
Pitchers typically throw harder as short-inning relievers because they can go max effort every pitch. But the predictable, five-day routine of a starting pitcher has paved the way for Richards to strengthen his arm throughout the season.
"I feel like that's been the biggest adjustment for me this year -- being in the rotation, having it set when I'm going to pitch, me having an idea of what I need to do in between starts, spending more time in the gym, little stuff like that," Richards said. "Going back and forth from the bullpen to the starting rotation, it's a lot of throwing, it's a lot of inconsistent rest. A lot of things go into play being in the bullpen.
"This is probably the same velocity I had in Double-A as a starter in 2011. The whole year, I would sit right where I'm at right now. After that, I started going back from the bullpen to the rotation, and lack of consistency in a routine -- you just can't do as much as a bullpen guy. You don't know if you're going to throw that day or not. Being in the rotation, I can lift in between. That's what I credit it to."
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.