Nearly eight months after a severe knee injury ended the most successful season of Garrett Richards' career, the right-hander is set to again take a major league mound for the Los Angeles Angels.
He'll get the opportunity in Sunday's decisive series finale against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
After debuting in 2011 and spending the next two seasons bouncing between the starting rotation, bullpen and minors, Richards broke out in 2014. The Southern California native was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA when during his 26th start Aug. 20 at Boston, he ruptured his left patellar tendon covering first base.
Richards underwent surgery, dedicated himself in rehab and pitched five times, including a five-inning outing with Triple-A Salt Lake on Tuesday, leading up to Sunday's highly anticipated return.
"I'm proud of him," Los Angeles pitching coach Mike Butcher told MLB's official website. "Any time somebody comes back from an injury, you never know what to expect.
"There's going to be stumbling blocks along the way. And fortunately for Garrett, he's been very smooth the whole way through. I'm proud of his work ethic and where he's at right now."
While the Angels (5-6) haven't rushed his return, Richards has been chomping at the bit to take the ball.
"Everything feels good," he said. "From the beginning until now it's come a long way."
The road from recovery ends Sunday at Houston, where Richards allowed one run, seven hits and struck out 16 to win both starts there last season. During the second inning of a 4-0 victory there June 4, Richards struck out the side on nine pitches.
He'll look to continue that success at Houston and help the Angels bounce back from Saturday's 4-0 loss.
Homers by George Springer and Robbie Grossman provided all the scoring as the Astros (5-6) won for the fourth time in five home games versus Los Angeles.
Springer, who hit 20 home runs as a rookie in 2014, went deep for the first time this season. He's 6 for 40 and ranks among the major league leaders with 17 strikeouts. Springer had 114 strikeouts in 295 at-bats a year ago and has also fanned five times while going 1 for 9 against Richards, the majors' leader last season with 0.27 home runs allowed per nine innings.
Houston's Scott Feldman (0-2, 6.17 ERA) hopes to get some offensive support while trying to avoid dropping his first three starts for the second time in three seasons. The right-hander allowed a solo homer in 6 2-3 innings of a 2-0 loss to Cleveland on April 8, then yielded five of his eight runs over five innings on three homers during Monday's 8-1 defeat to Oakland.
"That was one of those days that maybe come along once a year or something like that," Feldman said. "Hopefully, I can put it behind me and come back out ready to go."
He went 1-2 but with a 3.13 ERA in four starts - including the last three on the road - against the Angels in 2014.
Mike Trout is 5 for 14 with two homers and a double against him.
One night after homering twice to become the youngest player to hit 100 home runs and steal 100 bases, Trout's season-opening 10-game hitting streak ended Saturday when he went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.
Teammate Erick Aybar is batting .179 on the season, but .452 with three doubles and two triples in 31 at-bats versus Feldman.