RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Garrett Richards needs to get a grip and figure this out

RED SOX INSIDER

Like an aging boxer who knows he's going to absorb more punches than he can throw, Garrett Richards looks and sounds broken right now.

It's evident in his stuff, which was only good enough to record five outs in Wednesday's 8-2 loss to the Rays. And he's certainly wearing it publicly, displaying about as much resilience as the perpetually downtrodden Eeyore.

The source of Richards's woe? It's not his arm, which remains potent. It's MLB's crackdown on the use of illegal substances, which has not only impacted the right-hander's grip, but is clearly messing with his mind.

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"It's changed pretty much everything for me," Richards said. "I feel like I need to be a different pitcher than I've been the last nine and a half years."

Red Sox manager Alex Cora and pitching coach Dave Bush said all the right things, with the former noting that Richards can make mechanical adjustments to improve his fastball command and the latter suggesting that Richards doesn't need an overhaul.

They'd be entirely justified in delivering a more pointed message in private, however: Get your bleep together and figure this out.

Pitching without sunscreen or Spider Tack or flame-broiled Coca-Cola is every pitcher's new reality, and it yields two options -- they can either mope or they can adjust. Richards has reached his moping quota, so it's probably time to start adjusting.

 

"He's got to commit to making some changes, that's the best way I can put it," Bush said after Richards walked four and allowed a pair of two-run homers. "It is difficult. He's not the only one going through this, but anytime there's a dip in performance, doubt can creep in and insecurity and all that stuff is normal. Players go through that all the time. Part of the process is psychological and being confident he has the ability to do it.

"Yeah he has to make some changes and that's fine, that's part of the game, but he is still good enough and we'll keep reminding him of that. We have data that will prove that and there's all kinds of ways we can show him that. So that's part of the process in between starts, is to build him up physically and mentally and get him ready to go."

Of course, pitchers brought this on themselves by pushing the envelope until breaking the sound barrier. And even if you feel little sympathy for the likes of Richards or Nationals ace Max Scherzer and their respective displays of woe-is-me despairing and how-dare-you sanctimony, there's little doubt that forcing pitchers to alter their grips under duress will lead to a period of adjustment.

Losing his grip

Garrett Richards' ERA in his last two starts
12.71

Richards is living proof. His four-seam fastball keeps cutting lazily into the nitro zone of left-handed hitters like Rays outfielder Austin Meadows, who ripped one such grapefruit for a two-run bomb in the first. His slider is sloppy, which contributed to Mike Zunino hitting one out in the second. And while he at least threw 11 curveballs on Wednesday after effectively abandoning the pitch in his previous start, his once-elite spin rate had dropped by over 500 RPMs.

Unless Richards plans on retiring, he'll need to fix all of it and find a way.

"I'm an athlete," Richards said. "I'd like to think I'm going to be able to get over this and figure out a way to get it done. This just got brought on us real quick, so I've only had about a week to work on it. So some guys are figuring it out sooner than others, but for me, it's taken a little bit more time."

Time is not a luxury on Richards' side. He hasn't won a game in five weeks, and his ERA has climbed by more than a run in that span, from 3.72 to 4.74.

The underlying issue feels like a defeatist attitude that has produced a crisis of confidence. Until Richards believes he can actually thrive under these new conditions that are the same for everyone, he's just going to keep turtling and absorbing shot after shot after shot.