Garrett Richards’ struggles mount in Red Sox’ loss to Rays

Garrett Richards sounded almost defeated after his start last Thursday. MLB’s rules to prohibit foreign substances hadn’t gone into effect yet, but the Red Sox righty was frustrated, knowing he had an uphill battle to climb.

He wasn’t happy about the changes coming, which among many things outlawed the use of sunscreen, which he applies during all of his starts, and he was even less thrilled about the timing, as baseball threw a game-changing wrench into the middle of the season. But Richards knew he had no choice but to try to adjust.

“I’m going to figure it out,” Richards said last week.

If Wednesday night was any indication, it looks like that might take a while.

In his first start since the new rules began on Monday, it only got worse for Richards. He couldn’t even make it out of the second inning and he had very little command on his pitches as he dug the Red Sox a hole they couldn’t get out of in an ugly 8-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.

“Going through a little transition period right now,” Richards said. “Changing some grips on some of my pitches, learning new pitches, just trying to figure this whole thing out. Like I said, a little transition period, still determined to get it figured out. Just on the fly having to kind of figure out how to get through it. But yeah, just trying to compete and get outs.”

Perhaps no pitcher in the Red Sox rotation will be affected more by MLB’s rules than Richards, who had one of the highest spin rates in baseball over the first two months. It started to show last week, and it continued on Wednesday.

After not throwing any curveballs in a loss last Thursday — Richards said he wasn’t confident with that pitch as he threw only fastballs and sliders — he threw 11 curveballs on Wednesday. But they weren’t effective, as only three of them were for strikes and he saw the spin rate drop a drastic 534 RPMs on the pitch. There were similar decreases in his fastball and slider, which each dropped more than 200 RPMs.

Richards ultimately threw 54 pitches, with just 28 of them for strikes, over 1 2/3 innings, his shortest start of the season. His season-long struggles in the first inning continued as he gave up a two-out, two-run home run to Austin Meadows before serving up another two-run shot in the second to Mike Zunino on a hanging slider.

Richards’ frustrations were apparent. After the first inning was over, he walked off the mound and stood off to the side of the field with his hands up as he waited a while for umpires to come make their required checks of him for foreign substances. But with the way he was pitching, the check wasn’t really necessary.

Richards said he feels like he’s learning how to throw a fastball with the changes that have been made to how he pitches.

“I’d like to think I’m going to be able to get over this and figure out a way to get it done,” Richards said. “Like I was saying, it’s kind of, 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 so I’m just trying to figure it out.”

The overhaul that Richards is attempting to make isn’t just a minor tweak here or there. He said he has to completely change who he is as a pitcher.

“It’s changed pretty much everything for me,” Richards said. “It’s changed a lot for me. …

“I feel like I need to be a different pitcher than I’ve been the last nine and a half years.”

The Red Sox’ defense once again didn’t help matters. After Richards gave up a double to Brandon Lowe, Kiké Hernandez fielded an easy grounder from Wander Franco and spiked it into the ground as Franco reached safely and Lowe scored. But then Richards walked Meadows, his fourth free pass of the night, and hit Randy Arozarena with a pitch to load the bases and Alex Cora had seen enough.

Over his last three starts, Richards has totaled 11 innings and posted a 9.82 ERA. As his struggles magnify, the challenge of remaking himself in the middle of the season, with not much time in between each start, is just as daunting, but he’s trying to make due the best he can.

“We’re not hitters so I can’t go in the cage and hit a thousand baseballs a day,” Richards said. “I can only throw so much. I’m just trying to get quality work in every day and trying to take a step forward every day. Hopefully put together a finished product sooner than later.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating. This isn’t cool to be a part of. I’m trying to deal with this stuff with myself and not make it a problem for everybody else. Unfortunately, my performance affected us tonight. It sucks. It doesn’t feel good. Tomorrow is another day and back to work tomorrow.”

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