Angels right-hander Garrett Richards’ May decision to eschew Tommy John surgery in favor of a stem-cell therapy treatment on his elbow has produced positive results thus far. Richards threw his first bullpen session since May 1 on Saturday and came away from it encouraged about his chances to make an impact in 2017, saying, “There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be able to pitch” (Twitter link via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register).
Richards’ next milestone is to face live hitters Oct. 1, per Fletcher, who adds that the 28-year-old will then pitch in instructional league if that goes well. Should Richards emerge from those steps unscathed, he’ll have an opportunity to help the Angels next year. That Richards has currently progressed to such a degree is remarkable, as it appeared he was headed toward Tommy John surgery after receiving word in May that he had a significant tear in his elbow. Surgery is still a possibility if Richards’ recovery hits a snag, of course, and that would substantially delay his return to a big league mound. However, had Richards chosen surgery over stem-cell therapy in the first place, he would have had difficulty coming back in 2017, anyway. By taking the route he has, Richards has given himself a chance to pitch next season.
Before succumbing to injury, Richards posted mostly stellar numbers this year, logging a 2.34 ERA, 8.8 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 34 2/3 innings. Over the previous two seasons, Richards started 58 games and recorded a 3.18 ERA, 8.14 K/9 and 3.09 BB/9 across 376 frames. Injuries to him and fellow starters Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano have helped sink the Angels this year and could damage the team’s odds of bouncing back next season.
Heaney underwent Tommy John surgery in July after first attempting an unsuccessful stem-cell treatment. Tropeano, meanwhile, required the surgery in August after tearing his UCL in July. With few contributions from those three and Tyler Skaggs, who has only thrown 48 innings this year and had his own Tommy John scare earlier this week, the Angels have stumbled to a 63-84 mark. Their record puts them last in the American League West and tied for second worst in the AL.
While Heaney and Tropeano will most most or all of next season, Richards is so far on track to return to the Angels’ rotation. Richards should be in line for an increase over his $6.425MM salary as he makes his third of four possible trips through arbitration in the offseason. Of course, a serious setback before then would leave the Angels to decide whether to tender Richards a contract for next year.