Richard keeping eyes on starting prize
Left-hander continues run at rotation with solid outing on Saturday
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Let's say you have a Major League-caliber arm as a pitcher, albeit without much big league experience. Serving as a starting pitcher is pretty much all you have known throughout your run in the Minor Leagues.
With those parameters in mind, the following scenario then has to be played out. Would you rather be a starter in the Minors, if the Major League opportunity didn't present itself right away, and wait for your opportunity, or reach the big time as a long reliever?
Luckily for Clayton Richard, he doesn't have to make that ultimate call in regard to his current situation with the White Sox.
"That's not a decision for me," said Richard, after working four scoreless innings against the Rangers during a 2-1 loss on Saturday. "It's something where my goal is always to be up with the big league team and how that is, is how it is."
How that is basically depends on the ongoing recovery process for Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon. If both veterans continue down their remarkably healthy Spring Training path (remarkable, only in the sense of how quickly they have bounced back from their respective injuries), then Richard probably will end up in the bullpen. That move also is predicated on Contreras and Colon building up arm strength and stretching out for the start of the 2009 season.
If Colon and/or Contreras suffer any sort of setback, then Richard and Jeff Marquez, who entered Spring Training as the favorites to fill out the starting rotation, would be in the mix. To the credit of both young pitchers' mound focus, neither one has done anything to lose that favored status and truly haven't paid much attention to the veterans' comebacks.
It's a veteran-like attitude that has impressed White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.
"When I came here, those two guys were in my mind; I was not counting on Colon or Contreras," said Guillen of Richard and Marquez. "And they're still on my mind just in case something happens. I love the way those two kids throw. They got maybe three or four more starts and we'll see if they continue to have progress."
"I don't worry about it. It's out of my control," Richard said. "The only thing to control is our outings on the mound and try not to worry about what [Contreras and Colon] are doing with their progress. I worry more about how I am progressing and working on things I need to do to get better."
Richard gave up four hits over four innings on Saturday, three of the infield variety. He didn't strike out a hitter but didn't walk anyone either, following Guillen's mantra that if you throw strikes and attack the zone, you have a chance to succeed as a pitcher.
One of those infield hits was a bunt single, perfectly executed by Ian Kinsler with one out in the third. Richard jumped off the mound in good position to make the play, but couldn't get the handle on Kinsler's base hit.
Fielding his position took on extra offseason attention and work for Richard, who struggled with that particular discipline of his game in 2008. Saturday's play, though, was a do-or-die situation that didn't work out.
"Really, I spent more time on my defense than I ever did before," Richard said. "I wanted to make sure coming into Spring Training, everyone was comfortable that I could field my position."
There's certainly a level of comfort attached to Richard, even if he was to make this team as a reliever. In fact, Richard had two stellar efforts out of the bullpen in the 2008 American League Division Series loss to the Rays, giving up one run and fanning six over 6 1/3 total innings.
Since then, Richard has made extra usage of a cutter that he's feeling more comfortable in throwing from time to time. Although it's too early to make any promises, both Richard and Marquez probably have roster spots locked up.
Now, the question remaining is in what role will they be used? Richard became the first White Sox pitcher to hurl four innings this spring, but when the season starts in April, those extended outings might not come as frequently.
Most importantly for the 25-year-old southpaw, he feels stronger with each start. That's really the only outcome he can affect.
"Every time I go out, I feel a little more comfortable," Richard said. "It's nice getting more and more innings and more and more pitches.
"As a starting pitcher, you start to feel like you are actually playing in games. In those first two games, you only get to go out for one or two innings, and it's almost like a tease. It's nice to go out and be able to extend it a little longer.
"Getting each extra inning is like a little hump. And getting over those makes it all that better mentally, to get mentally prepared," Richard added. "You extend yourself not only physically with your body, but also mentally focusing through more and more innings and more and more batters."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.