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Cautiously Optimistic? Richards clears final hurdle!

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Richards pitched his final instructional league appearance today, now we wait...again.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, alright, alright, we all know Garrett Richards was supposed to undergo Tommy John surgery after an MRI revealed a torn elbow ligament back in May. But what we didn’t know, back then, was that he would be avoiding surgery altogether. Yes folks, Garrett cleared his final hurdle today in the hot Arizona sun and ended on a point of emphasis (his final pitch getting clocked at 96 mph), after 55 pitches across four innings of baseball.

While the results and velocity were nice to see (4 IP, 3 hits, 1 R, 0 walks, and 5 K’s on those 55 pitches while consistently sitting in his usual mid-to-upper 90’s), the big thing to note here is that it was his final appearance before being re-evaluated and shut down until January. Garrett had to prove to the franchise he was good to go after receiving a stem cell injection to heal his ulnar colateral ligament. After pitching to batters for the first time late in September during live batting practice, followed by three appearances in instructional league, and slowly building up towards todays workload (of around 50-60 pitches), he’s reached the last checkpoint.

Here’s a snippet, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, of Garrett’s first rehab outing:

In his first game action in five months, he threw 25 pitches over two innings against Texas instructional leaguers and did not permit a baserunner. He struck out two, his fastball idling at 94 mph and reaching 96 mph or 97 mph, depending on the radar gun.

A few noteworthy things from that article. One, Garrett said he scrapped the changeup he was attempting to harness in Spring Training, citing it as a possible reason for the elbow damage.

“I think that contributed to the injury,” he said. “I’d never had any elbow problems until I started throwing the changeup.”

And two, he says spending a lot of time in the dugout has helped with his mental approach to pitching.

“I’ve really had a lot of time to sit back and watch a lot of baseball on the bench,” he said. “I’ve thought a lot about pitching sequences. I’m more aware of what’s going on, I guess you could say, instead of going into robot mode and trying to continuously feed strikes in there. Sometimes we get caught up in the routine so much that we forget about the mental side of the game as well.

His second outing was ramped up to three innings and about 50 pitches, via the OC Register.

Richards threw about 50 pitches and said via text that "everything was great. Felt even better than last time."

And finally, we have today. There still hasn’t been an interview with him yet, and I assume the team’s waiting a day or two to evaluate him and then go from there, but things actually look quite promising as of now. Follow this link which will you lead you to Josh Norris’ Periscope and some awesome footage of Garrett. And if that wasn’t enough, here’s a quick clip from Jeff Fletcher’s Twitter account. Even more on the fireballing right-hander, per Josh Norris

Josh Norris scouting report

So I think it’s safe to assume that Garrett’s arm is feeling alright. This is big news Angels fans, as I’m sure that you are aware, if Garrett can have seemingly avoided the inevitable surgery that would have sidelined him for all of 2017, next season isn’t looking so grim after all. Skaggs pitched one of the final games of the season, giving him, and fans, some peace of mind heading into the offseason after he missed time with a forearm tightness. Shoemaker seems to be doing well and should be ready to go for Spring Training. Sure, it sucks the team won’t have Heaney and Tropeano for 2017, obviously, but the fact that those three listed are healing up and will be back on the bump offers just a glimpse of optimism for Angel fans.

The offseason started today (not really), and the Angels just acquired a front-of-the-rotation arm, a legitimate ace that can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the game (sans maybe Clayton Kershaw in the regular season). If Eppler can add one more decent starting pitcher into the fold, I’m feeling a heck of a lot better about the rotation. Sure, there are depth concerns, and almost no legitimate pitching prospects in the system, but a healthy Richards/Skaggs/Shoemaker, a freshly turned 33-year old Ricky Nolasco equipped with a sinker, and a former top prospect flamethrower, who reminds me quite a bit of Garrett himself, Alex Meyer all offer varying degrees of talent and upside. If this is indeed it and Garrett’s cleared to join the rotation in spring and the 2017 season, I think there’s some actual justification to getting excited about baseball again.

Now if Eppler will just go out and add a bunch of talent to the bullpen and add a left fielder/second baseman....