Red Sox: Garrett Richards incorporating new pitches in his repertoire

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 28: Starting pitcher Garrett Richards #43 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Kansas City Royals during the second inning at Fenway Park on June 28, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 28: Starting pitcher Garrett Richards #43 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Kansas City Royals during the second inning at Fenway Park on June 28, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Red Sox starter Garrett Richards is experimenting with new pitches

It takes time for a pitcher to make adjustments. For Boston Red Sox starter Garrett Richards, it took until around the third inning.

The first two frames were an utter disaster for Richards during Monday’s start against the Kansas City Royals. The right-hander was shelled for five runs and coughed up a trio of homers to put the Red Sox in an early hole.

Richards could have continued his downward spiral until manager Alex Cora had no choice but to pull the plug. Instead, the starter buckled down with a few scoreless frames while his offense rallied to catch up.

The final line on Richards was still ugly but he made it through 5 2/3 without allowing any more runs after those brutal opening innings. He deserves some credit for battling through the rough start to his outing so that the Red Sox wouldn’t need to burn out their bullpen. He kept his team in the game, which they would eventually go on to win 6-5.

Richards has been as impacted as anyone by Major League Baseball’s crusade against pitchers utilizing foreign substances. He openly admits to using some type of substance throughout his entire career and he now needs to adjust on the fly. While whatever he was smearing on his fingertips in the past almost certainly contributed to his elite spin rates, Richards remains adamant that the purpose was to allow him to properly grip the baseball.

Without his sticky stuff, Richards appears incapable of getting a feel for his breaking ball. He essentially abandoned his curveball in his prior two outings. His slider isn’t as sharp and he can’t get by on his mid-90s fastball alone, especially when it no longer classifies in the elite spin rate category. Against the Royals, both his slider and four-seam fastball declined by at least 220 RPM compared to his season rate, per Baseball Savant.

Two of the home runs that Richards allowed came on fastballs that caught too much of the plate. The other was on an awful hanging slider that was practically begging to be launched into orbit.

His recovery from a messy start was aided by new pitches he’s been working on. Richards only threw 11 curveballs against the Royals but he featured a slower version of the pitch. It’s unclear if throwing it with less velocity makes it easier to grip or if the super-slow curve is his way of offsetting the decline in spin rate but either way, it was more effective than the version he was attempting without the benefit of sticky substances.

Richards also incorporated a split changeup that he learned following his last start against the Tampa Bay Rays, according to Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic.

"“(It’s) just a pitch I learned literally four days ago,” said Richards. “Trying to figure out how to pitch again. Stay in the zone, be competitive and give us a chance to win. That’s the only thing I care about.”"

Richards utilized the new changeup on 24 of his 94 pitches, making it his second-most frequently used pitch in this appearance. He generated only one whiff with the pitch but got a handful of called strikes with it. Richards allowed only two hits against his changeup, both singles.

The Red Sox are going to have to be patient with their struggling starter as he reinvents himself. Fans were ready to ship him to Siberia before the end of the second inning but the team isn’t nearly as prone to overreacting to a rough patch. Boston obviously isn’t going to designate him for assignment considering the money he’s owed and their lack of rotation depth. It might be a different story later this summer when Chris Sale and Tanner Houck are healthy enough to contribute but the Red Sox have no appealing alternatives in the short-term.

Richards might only need to make one more start before the All-Star break, with his next appearance currently slated for this weekend in Oakland. The Red Sox will likely give him the opportunity to see if the progress he showed after the second inning of last night’s start carries over to his next outing. His revamped repertoire is still a work in progress so we can’t expect miracles. He just needs to keep his team in the game for a handful of innings.

His last start before the break would be at home against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 9. The Red Sox have a scheduled off day leading into that series, which would allow them to skip Richards in the rotation if his next start doesn’t go well. That would give him extra time through the break to continue working on his new pitches.

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A pitcher remodeling their style on the mound isn’t an adjustment that happens overnight. Richards needs time to work out his new approach but he showed some encouraging signs last night despite the disappointing overall result. He was a completely different pitcher by the third inning when he started shutting down the Royals lineup. That’s a promising outcome considering that he’ll need to develop into a completely different pitcher from the one he’s been his entire career.