Garrett Richards Facing Baptism By Fire In Debut

Los Angeles Angels prospect Garrett Richards will make his major league debut Wednesday night. Against the Yankees, in New York, in the thick of a pennant race. Godspeed!

The Los Angeles Angels came into the year with Joel Pineiro under contract as their number-four starter. However, Pineiro took it upon himself to wage a one-man war against the injustice of strikeouts, and last week, he was removed from the rotation with a 5.31 ERA. For the sake of comparison, Scott Kazmir's ERA as an Angel, before he drew his release, was also 5.31.

A team can't just remove an ineffective pitcher from its rotation, though. A team that removes an ineffective pitcher must also replace him, and so the Angels went searching. And after running through a list of candidates, the organization has settled on Garrett Richards, who will make his major league debut Wednesday night in Pineiro's place.

It's a sensible-if-aggressive decision by a team that's light on starter depth. There's nothing in triple-A and Mike Scioscia didn't want to disrupt the major league bullpen, so they dipped into double-A, where Richards has been the best arm. The 23-year-old righty has posted a 3.06 ERA over 21 starts, with five strikeouts for every two walks.

There's just this one thing: Richards' Wednesday debut will come on the road. Against the Yankees. With the game broadcast on ESPN. Some teams like to ease their rookies into the Show. The Angels won't hear of it.

How this situation would appear in other lines of work:

War Correspondent

Boss: Congratulations, you're hired.
Boss: Now, infiltrate the enemy lines and give me 10,000 words on their organization by six.

Forest Ranger

Boss: Congratulations, you're hired.
Boss: You might notice that the forest is currently on fire.
Boss: So, put it out.

Astronaut

Boss: Congratulations, you're hired.
Boss: Colonize Mars.
Boss: You can take some dudes if you want.

Richards isn't actually looking at an impossible situation, since baseball's pretty unpredictable and the Yankees are still playing without Alex Rodriguez. Even so, he's never faced this kind of pressure, or this kind of opponent. The closest Richards has come to facing the Yankees is facing former Yankees top prospect Eric Duncan in double-A last Thursday.

So is it a good thing or a bad thing to do this to a prospect? There are arguments to be made for both sides, but the Angels obviously aren't worried. Scioscia:

"I think it's great," Scioscia said. "I think it's a great challenge for a youngster. We think he's going to pitch his game.

"If you can come into an atmosphere like Yankee Stadium and pitch a good game, you know how much confidence you take away from that?"

And who knows, maybe he's right. Richards was the 42nd overall pick in 2009. He works with a full repertoire that looks big-league-quality on a good day. He could succeed, and success under those conditions in his debut would presumably send his confidence soaring.

But then there's the other side. What if Richards struggles? What if he gets lit up? What effect would that have on his psychological well-being? Just how delicate are these guys? How delicate is this particular guy?

So much psychology to consider, and so little psychology we understand. Maybe in the end, none of it really matters. I don't know. Here's all I can say for sure: Wednesday night, Garrett Richards makes his major league debut against the New York Yankees. If he does well, he'll be flying. And if he does not, well, would Richards himself be surprised? 

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