Last winter, the Padres placed a limited but still-significant bet on the still-healing right arm of Garrett Richards. The expectation was that the Tommy John rehabber would be at full strength for the 2020 campaign and might even be ready in time to make a late contribution in 2019.
As of early July, it seemed things were proceeding well. Richards was ultimately sent out to begin a rehab assignment in mid-July, starting a thirty-day clock for potential MLB activation. That wasn’t a hard timeline — MLB rules allow the commissioner to grant up to three, ten-day rehab extensions for pitchers returning from TJS — but the 31-year-old would not have been put in a competitive pitching environment had he not been deemed ready to begin his march back to the MLB mound in earnest.
Richards started off gingerly, making two brief appearances with the Friars’ rookie ball Arizona League affiliate. His rehab work was placed in a higher gear in late July, when he joined the San Diego High-A outfit at Lake Elsinore. Richards didn’t exactly dominate in his first start: he allowed two earned runs on five hits and two walks, while generating just one strikeout, over 57 pitches in 2 1/3 innings.
It was encouraging, then, to see Richards come out of the gates in better form yesterday. He ran up five strikeouts against two walks and two base hits over 2 2/3 innings. Richards had only thrown 51 pitches to that point, thirty of them for strikes, so he surely was slated to remain on the hill at least to record his ninth out — if not also to begin the fourth inning.
Unfortunately, Richards ended up departing the mound at that point. The official word (Twitter link) is that the veteran righty was pulled with “apparent discomfort in his right shoulder.” The Mad Friars Twitter account indicates that trainers were looking at Richards’s shoulder rather than his recently repaired (and long problematic) elbow. While that’s not necessarily comforting in and of itself, it’s good to hear that the decision to pull him from the mound was deemed precautionary and that there’s no current expectation that Richards will miss a start.
Even if this proves to be a blip, it seems we’re still at least a few weeks away from potentially seeing Richards in the majors. Given its place in the standings, the San Diego club has no reason to proceed with anything but the utmost caution with the hard-throwing right-hander. He’ll still need to build his pitch count up and also spend some time fine-tuning against higher-level competition. And the organization will ultimately need to clear 40-man roster space to accommodate Richards (as will be required regardless once the season ends and the 60-day injured list goes dormant).