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Getting a chance: Garrett Richards becomes a force in regular rotation spot for Angels

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - Garrett Richards credits one change for his rapid evolution into an elite starting pitcher with the Los Angeles Angels.

"I got a job," he said.

Sometimes it's just that simple for a young, hard-throwing right-hander. With a regular turn in the Angels' rotation this year after several seasons of instability, Richards promptly became one of the AL's most effective starters and an All-Star candidate.

Richards always had the stuff for this job, with a vicious cut fastball headlining a strong selection of power pitches. But a regular role has allowed Richards to focus on details and consistency, and he is building on past performances to go 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA.

His other numbers are even more impressive: Opponents are batting just .206 against Richards, second-best in the AL, and they've only hit two homers off him all season. His 94 strikeouts are eighth in the AL, and Richards has been at his best in June, going 3-0 while allowing just two runs in 27 innings heading into Wednesday's start against Minnesota.

The Angels just might have another ace, and they're confident he can fill any role.

"Garrett can be as good as he wants to be," Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "He has matured so much right in front of our eyes, and it's fun to see. In between starts, the work he's put in in the gym, the way he came into camp in shape — he's always in great shape, but just the mentality of it — he's putting it all together."

Butcher has closely monitored Richards' evolution over four seasons since his major league debut at Yankee Stadium. Richards made 29 starts in the previous three seasons, but also spent long stretches in the bullpen or the minors.

"They gave me the job right out of spring training," Richards said. "I don't have to worry about going up and down. I don't have to worry about pitching in Triple-A. I don't have that on my shoulder. Butch called me in the off-season and told me I was going to make 33 starts this year, so that's all I needed to know."

While they've made tweaks to Richards' delivery to improve his pitch location and work from the stretch, Butcher credits most of this season's improvement to the hard-throwing Oklahoman himself.

Richards no longer gets irretrievably frustrated when an early inning goes poorly, a problem earlier in his career. He shrugs off teammates' errors and opponents' homers — all two of them.

"He's just done a great job of understanding that sometimes criticism is there for a reason when people are trying to help you out," Butcher said. "It took him a while to understand that, but he has matured tremendously the last two years."

Richards has been more consistent for the Angels than longtime ace Jered Weaver or even C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles' best pitcher over the last two years. The Angels are 11-4 in Richards' starts, boosting their strong start to the season after a four-year playoff drought.

At a season-best eight games above .500 heading into a series with the Twins, Los Angeles (41-33) has stayed close to AL-leading Oakland in the division standings.

Richards showed glimpses of this ability throughout his career in Anaheim, but the Angels tried other fixes for their troublesome rotation. A parade of mostly disappointing starters — Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Ervin Santana, Zack Greinke, Scott Kazmir — marched in and out of the Angels' clubhouse before they fully trusted in Richards this spring.

"The evolution of a pitcher from a guy that's raw and has a great arm to what Garrett is doing, that takes some time," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Where he is right now, his confidence, hopefully it's going to keep him at this level for a long time."

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