ANAHEIM -- The sample size may be quite small, and a few weeks still remain before a decision must be made, but this may already be a relevant question: Can the Angels afford not to keep Garrett Richards in their rotation?
It's not just that he's pitching well -- Richards is the only Angels starter to record an out in the seventh, and he's done so in both of his starts -- it's that he has the best stuff on the staff. In a rotation made up of pitch-to-contact guys, Richards offers an important variation, with an explosive arsenal that can consistently rack up strikeouts.
"He has the potential to do what he's done the first couple starts," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday after Richards pitched seven shutout innings against the loaded Tigers, striking out eight, walking none and giving up two hits. "We'll see where it leads."
Going back to the start of Spring Training, Richards has given up eight earned runs in 36 1/3 innings (1.98 ERA).
Richards, still more than a month away from his 25th birthday, established good command of his four-seam, mid-90s fastball and slider while serving as a reliever to start the season. Since being moved to the rotation when Jered Weaver went out with an elbow injury, he's expanded his repertoire once more, reintroducing the cutter, changeup and 12-to-6 curveball.
His curve, which usually has a 17-mph difference from his fastball, has been an inconsistent pitch for him in the past, but he had it working on Saturday. He threw only six of them, but two were strikes to Prince Fielder, one was a called strike on Victor Martinez and the other resulted in a groundout by Jhonny Peralta.
"That's a pitch that's only going to help me out, throwing that in there 0-2, or throwing it [as a first pitch]," Richards said. "It's a pitch that guys have to respect if I continue to throw it for a strike."
Another reason for Richards' evolution as a starting pitcher: His delivery. It used to be very herky-jerky, probably contributing to his 4.3 walks-per-nine rate in 85 Major League innings from 2011-12. But pitching coach Mike Butcher has helped him be quieter going towards the plate.
"It has allowed me to have a more squared delivery, which means I can be more consistent with all my pitches, whether that's the changeup, the curveball, the slider, whatever," Richards said. "My delivery and rhythm is really comfortable for me. It's allowed me to throw the ball out in front and be a little bit more consistent."
Struggling Hamilton confident results will come
ANAHEIM -- Twice on Sunday -- with a man on third and two outs in the seventh, and with none on and two outs in the 12th -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland opted to walk Albert Pujols and pitch to Josh Hamilton. Another time, with the game tied in the 10th, he pitched to Hamilton with lefty Phil Coke, then intentionally walked Mark Trumbo behind him.
Hamilton's message: "Do it while you can."
The Angels got back on track this weekend, sweeping the defending American League champs thanks to a series-capping walk-off homer by Trumbo. But Hamilton is still searching for success with his former team coming to town. He hit a couple of hard line drives to the outfield on Sunday, but they were outs. The next two times, he struck out with the winning run on base. And through his first 17 games, he's batting .176, with 23 strikeouts in 68 at-bats.
The next time the Tigers play the Angels, Leyland said, "Hamilton will probably be on fire."
The Angels' right fielder can't figure out why it isn't happening now.
"I feel good, man," Hamilton said. "I've felt good for a while. I don't know. The only way I can describe it is baseball -- baseball is baseball. It just proves to you you can barrel it up and do everything right and feel good, and hit it right at people, and then you can work the worst at-bat of your life and roll one through the hole. I mean, it's nothing I'm doing different. We've looked at video, doing drills and things like that. There's nothing different than the first two months of last season. Everything's the same."
Hamilton is used to being the one intentionally walked. Each of the last two years, he led the Rangers in that department with 13 per season. But for valid reasons, the man in front of him has already been issued five free passes -- three of them by Texas on April 6.
Hamilton's message to Pujols: "Don't start expanding your zone because I'm struggling. I had good at-bats today, felt good at the plate. It's coming. Just stick to your game plan, get on base, and it'll happen."
Kohn happy to be back on mound after long road
ANAHEIM -- The arduous Major League Baseball schedule hardly offers an avenue for reflection, but Michael Kohn made sure he took some time to put things in perspective on Saturday. It had been a long road back from Tommy John surgery.
"I got home, went to the hotel, sat down and was like, 'All right, I came back' -- gave myself a tap on the back and said, 'Good job,'" said Kohn, who threw a scoreless ninth inning in the Angels' 10-0 win over the Tigers on Saturday, his first Major League outing in 21 months.
"It was awesome, just to come back from surgery and be back on a big league mound facing elite hitters. It was kind of like my second coming, I guess. I saved the ball. I came back from a long injury. I'm very proud of myself for getting back. Now it's just time to do work."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia noticed Kohn had "more life on his fastball than he had in Spring Training." The 26-year-old right-hander threw a first-pitch fastball at 96 mph, then stayed at 94-95 mph the rest of the frame, a tick or two faster than where he was in 2011.
Kohn's surgery (April 12, 2012) came one day after Ryan Madson's, but his program was more aggressive and thus his recovery time was much quicker. Madson pitched to hitters for the first time on Friday, while Kohn was appearing in Spring Training games as early as Feb. 23.
Kohn gave up nine runs (four earned) in 3 1/3 Cactus League innings before getting cut in mid-March. But he had five scoreless outings in Triple-A Salt Lake, striking out seven and walking none in 4 1/3 innings.
"My arm felt great; it was just a matter of harnessing the stuff and delivery and stuff like that," Kohn said. "That was the last hurdle, and I'm still working on that every day."
• Erick Aybar is "feeling better," after spending a few days doing aqua therapy in Arizona earlier this week, but he still isn't sure when he'll resume running and his left heel continues to give him problems swinging from the right side. Aybar is eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday, but probably won't be ready by then. "He's not quite day to day," Scioscia said, "but he's getting close."
• Weaver is expected to play catch on Wednesday, marking the first time he'll throw a baseball since fracturing his left elbow in his April 7 start at Rangers Ballpark. The Angels' ace had a follow-up exam on his elbow last week that came back negative, and he will probably have to be reevaluated once more before getting cleared to throw. Weaver is expected to be out until mid-May.
• Veteran utility infielder Bill Hall, resigned to another Minor League contract on April 6, has reported to Salt Lake after spending two weeks in extended spring training to finish rehabbing from a calf strain, one of two leg injuries that robbed him of an opportunity to make the Angels out of Spring Training.
• Reliever Chad Cordero, who began the regular season pitching out of the Cal League, made his Triple-A debut on Saturday and pitched a scoreless inning.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.