By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- When the Red Sox signed Garrett Richards, the veteran right-hander's exceptional spin rate was considered one of his strongest attributes. Yet now that MLB is cracking down on pitchers using any substances at all to get a grip on baseballs, he's hit a bit of a rough patch.
And that's putting it mildly.
Richards lasted just 1.2 innings on Wednesday night in Tampa, surrendering five runs -- four earned -- on three hits, a hit batter and four walks while serving up a pair of homers. It was a continuation of a trend for Richards, who is 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA in his last three starts. He's walked seven batters (with three HBPs) in 11 innings, and opponents have hit .382 with a 1.161 OPS against him during that time.
After a rough start to the season, Richards posted a 2.89 ERA in nine starts from mid-April to early June. His ERA has jumped just about a full run in the four starts since.
Richards' struggles aligning with MLB paying closer attention to substances is no coincidence. That doesn't necessarily mean that Richards was using Spider Tack or any other illegal substance, but with MLB banning the use of pine tar, rosin, sunscreen and other substances, pitchers are being forced to grip their pitches differently in an effort to try to gain some control of their arsenal. Richards is struggling in that endeavor.
"Going through a little transition period right now," Richards said Wednesday night, per RedSox.com. "Changing some grips on some of my pitches, learning new pitches, just trying to figure this whole thing out. Like I said, a little transition period, still determined to get it figured out."
Richards added: "I'm an athlete. I'd like to think I'm going to be able to get over this and figure out a way to get it done."
While spin rates are dropping league-wide, Richards' spin rate drops on Wednesday were jaw-dropping. Per Baseball Savant, his curveball dropped 505 revolutions per minute from his season average. His four-seam fastball dropped 255 RPM, and his slider dropped 210 RPM. He threw just 11 curveballs, only three of which were strikes.
While those numbers are staggering, manager Alex Cora said after the game that he's chiefly concerned about Richards' fastball, which Cora believes has been cutting over his past three or four starts.
"We can talk about breaking ball and slider, but in this league, if your fastball is not playing, you're gonna have trouble," Cora said.
Richards is, of course, not alone. Gerrit Cole's sinker dropped 326 RPM on Tuesday night, with his fastball dropping 229 RPM and his slider dropping 216 RPM from his season average, while Trevor Bauer's numbers continued to drop across the board on Wednesday night. And those are just the marquee names in what is a near-universal issue on mounds across baseball. Tyler Glasnow's impassioned argument against the banning of all substances last week continues to ring loudly as MLB enforces a strict new policy in the middle of a baseball season.
Whether or not the league allows for some wiggle room in this area is yet to be seen. For now, pitchers like Richards will be tasked with the difficult challenge of reworking their entire arsenal midseason. It's certainly not easy, but the playing field appears to be level. It's now a matter of athletes adapting.
"At the end, we have to compete, right, with what we have, regardless," Cora said. "Hopefully we can find something during this week and get him ready for his next [start]."
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