Pitcher Richard making case to revitalize his career with Pirates
BRADENTON, Fla. — Clayton Richard had scouts behind the chain-link fence of Pirate City double taking their radar guns last Tuesday. Because of a shoulder injury, no one had seen the left-hander in a major-league game since 2013. Few had seen any of his 21 minor-league innings last season.
But on a sun-soaked back field, scouts were surprised the 31-year-old's fastball touched 92 mph and rested consistently at 90-91 mph, in line with his career fastball velocity of 90.9 mph, according to PITCHf/x data.
On Saturday against the Red Sox, Richard continued to intrigue as he came on to pitch scoreless seventh and eighth innings, recording three strikeouts. In the seventh, he froze Red Sox regular Shane Victorino with a curveball and then a fastball for a strikeout. Humberto Quintero, a 12-year veteran, followed by waving at a pitch for another strikeout. Richard's delivery looked freer and easier than it had in years, the ball jumping from his left hand. In four innings last week, Richard struck out seven and allowed just one run.
The Pirates took a flier on Richard this offseason, signing him to a minor-league contract. But could that lottery ticket become the Pirates' latest reclamation project? In each of the past three seasons, Pirates pitching gurus Jim Benedict and Ray Searage have helped revitalize the careers of at least one major-league pitcher. In 2012, it was A.J. Burnett. In 2013, Francisco Liriano was rehabbed, and last season it was Edinson Volquez, who had been teammates with Richard in San Diego.
“I was able to talk to (Volquez) a little bit and see what he thought of the organization,” said Richard, a former backup quarterback at Michigan. “It was positive. Just in talking with Neal (Huntington), Clint (Hurdle) and Ray (Searage), I got a good feel of what they are all about.
“It made sense for me that this was the place.”
PNC Park doesn't hurt either, as a friendly confines for a left-handed pitcher. Of course, Richard struggled in the kindest of pitching environments in his last major league go-around.
It was in San Diego where Richard threw just 52 innings with the Padres in 2013, when he produced a 7.01 ERA as he was affected by a shoulder impingement, which required surgery in June.
When Richard has been healthy, he has been a quality major league pitcher, logging at least 200 innings along with a sub-4.00 ERA in 2010 and 2012 with the Padres. For his career, the 31-year-old has a 46-47 record with a 4.33 ERA.
To get back to his earlier career form, Benedict and Searage and Richard worked on making just one adjustment, keeping the tweaks simple, as they had done with Volquez and Liriano.
“They do a great job here of seeing the small things and helping you make an adjustment,” Richard said. “I think the easiest way to put it is I'm loosening up my entire body through my delivery. I had been tight for so long trying to protect my shoulder that I had created a habit of being tight through my delivery.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle praised Richard's work in camp.
While Richard is unlikely to break camp with the club, he is perhaps improving his seeding as a depth option if he remains in the organization.
The Pirates' pitching depth already has been tested with the loss of Brandon Cumpton (elbow) for the season. So even if Richard has an escape clause in his minor league deal, which many veterans do, he might want to wait around and see if the Pirates can revitalize another arm this summer.