Clayton Richard is optimistic about his future and until recently it had been a while since he experienced similar confidence.
With his health intact for the first time in two offseasons, Richard likes his chances of earning a big league job in 2016, though the pitcher wouldn’t mind if he stayed put with the Cubs.
Richard — who produced 4 2/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs after he went 4-2 with a 3.83 ERA in 42 1/3 innings — was just as confident during a turbulent period this summer when the Cubs twice designated him for assignment.
Even though his future was uncertain, Richard, 31, knew he was healthy and likely to get a chance somewhere. Turns out the Cubs ultimately would give him that opportunity and benefitted from their decision. Now, after two offseasons of ambiguity and injury, the Lafayette, Ind.-native is excited about his prospects this winter.
“Having been through the health issues, that puts things in perspective,” Richard said. “I kind of look back and put myself where I was a year and a half ago, it’s pretty special. I’m excited to be here now and looking forward to the future.”
A future is something Richard wasn’t certain he’d ever have again.
He had his first surgery in June 2013 to shave parts of his left clavicle to avoid future difficulties with his AC joint.
But that didn’t end his issues.
The following February, Richard had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that can cause numbness in the fingers and pain in the shoulder, arm and neck. He was able to pitch again by August and posted a 6.75 ERA in four minor league games for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Last offseason, Richard signed a minor-league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He appeared in his first game at Single-A Bradenton on May 7 was immediately promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he went 4-2 with a 3.21 ERA in nine starts.
In need of starting pitching depth, the Cubs acquired Richard from Pittsburgh in July for cash. He won his first start on July 4 but posted a 5.40 ERA through 15 innings before the Cubs DFA’d him on July 22. The Cubs brought him back for another start on Aug. 2 and he won, allowing a run in six innings. But in need of room, Richard was designated again the next day.
Still, he didn’t worry about his future.
“I knew I was healthy and I was going to be playing and no matter where I went I was going to be able to prove that I could be a contributor at the big league level,” Richard said.
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When he returned again on Aug. 12, Richard moved to the bullpen and it looks like the move could stick. With a four-seam fastball that averaged between 93-95 mph from mid-August through October, Richard posted a 3.38 ERA over 19 appearances. He followed it up with the 4 2/3 scoreless innings in relief in the postseason.
“It took a little bit of time (to adjust) but it wasn’t terrible,” Richard said. “At the end of the day its getting loose and executing pitches and we were able to do that.”
Richard played a key role for Joe Maddon down the stretch and he may fit in the bullpen again next season. A former 14-game winner, the left-hander has one more season left until he becomes a free agent, which means the ball is in the team’s court.
Though he was disappointed by the team’s loss in the National League Championship Series, Richard could see past the disappointment to realize what had transpired. He’s also excited about the team’s future and his own.
“It’s a special team and I hope that doesn’t get lost in the loss,” Richard said. “It’s a special young team that did big things for this city and the organization and it has a bright future. But you don’t want to just dismiss what happened this year. It was a special year and I hope people recognize that and appreciate it for what it is and then when the time comes look forward to the future.”