Welcome to life after sticky stuff
Red Sox starter Garrett Richards looked helpless through his first 1 2/3 innings of work on Monday night against the Royals. He allowed six hits (three of them home runs) and put Boston in an early 5–1 hole. He looked like a guy who was completely incapable of getting hitters out. And yet, he managed to pitch 4 1/3 innings of scoreless ball after that point. How? By reinventing himself on the fly.
After giving up a home run to Whit Merrifield with one out in the second, Richards decided that what he had been doing wasn’t cutting it, so he got creative. He started throwing pitches slower than he ever had before, and some pitches he had never thrown before. And it worked.
Entering Monday, Richards had never thrown a pitch slower than 73 mph in his 11-year MLB career. That was on an intentional walk to Shin-soo Choo in 2014. The slowest competitive pitch of his career was a 74 mph curveball to David Murphy in 2012. The first pitch Richards threw after the Merrifield home run was the slowest of his career to that point: a curveball that was clocked at 72.7 mph. It was one of 11 curveballs under 73 mph that Richards threw over the course of the game. The slowest one floated in at a leisurely 63.5 mph. (His fastball still averaged in the low- to mid-90s.)
Richards also started throwing a type of pitch that was entirely new to him. He hadn’t thrown a changeup on a regular basis since 2016, but on Monday started throwing what he called a “split changeup.” He said he only learned the pitch four days ago.
“I’m figuring it out. I’m starting to throw a changeup now that I learned this week in about three days. Now I’m throwing a curveball at 60 miles an hour, which is new for me. Just trying to figure out how to pitch again, man,” Richards told reporters after the game. “I’ve never had to make this kind of change in my whole career so I’m just trying to make the best of it and give us a chance to win.”
The “kind of change” Richards is referring to is throwing without the aid of sticky stuff. On an oppressively hot night in Boston, Richards was sweating heavily and having a hard time getting a grip on the ball. Unable to use gunk on his fingers to improve his grip, Richards resorted to dunking his arm in a bucket of ice between innings to try to stop the sweating.
“Your arm stops sweating for a short period of time,” Richards explained. “I need to stop sweating. If I can stop sweating, everything will be fine.”
Richards’s improvisation stopped the bleeding and gave the Red Sox an opportunity to mount a comeback victory, their league-leading 26th come-from-behind win.
Richards is hardly the only pitcher struggling to get outs now that they aren’t allowed to load up their fingers. Being able to transform into an entirely different pitcher at the drop of a hat is not only very impressive, it’s super fun. It’ll be fascinating to see if other pitchers make changes as drastic as Richards did as they adjust to life after sticky stuff.
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