Garrett Richards had been cruising recently until a rough first inning derailed his last start. He'll try to avoid a similar fate when he faces the Kansas City Royals, who got to him early in his only previous start against them.
The Los Angeles Angels look to avoid losing two straight for the first time in nearly three weeks as Richards takes the mound Sunday.Richards (4-1, 2.90 ERA) gave up five runs -- matching the total he had allowed over his three previous outings -- and a season-worst 10 hits over seven innings of a 5-2 loss to Houston on Monday.A wild pitch and an error on a pickoff attempt were partially responsible for three first-inning runs. He had limited opponents to one first-inning run this season.The Astros were 3 for 5 with two walks off Richards in the first. Opponents had been 2 for 26 with five walks."Finding a way to throw seven innings after going through all that in the first three isn't an easy thing to do," Richards said.. "... I think that's part of my maturity and my progression as a starting pitcher."Richards gave up two runs in the first inning of his only career start against Kansas City, allowing four earned runs overall over five innings in a 4-1 defeat July 24, 2012. He owns 4.38 ERA in seven matchups.The Royals' .257 batting average in the first inning is the fifth highest in the AL.Despite a 7-4 defeat in 13 innings Saturday, the Angels (27-21) are a major league-best 11-4 since May 9. They haven't lost consecutive games since May 6 and 7 against the New York Yankees.The Royals' Jason Vargas (4-2, 3.76) was 9-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts for the Angels last year. He figures to be comfortable at Angel Stadium, posting a 1.82 ERA in his last five starts as the opposing pitcher there with two straight victories. His nine wins in Anaheim are his second most at any park.A road outing is also particularly welcome for Vargas given his struggles at home, where he owns a 5.26 ERA in six outings. The left-hander gave up seven runs and three homers in a season-low 4 2/3 innings against the visiting White Sox on Monday.Kansas City and Los Angeles were a combined 4 for 25 with runners in scoring position Saturday, with Jarrod Dyson scoring the go-ahead run on an Alcides Escobar bunt that drew a throwing error from reliever Mike Morin.Eric Hosmer matched a season high with four hits while Salvador Perez was 2 for 6 after missing three games due to a sore hand.Kansas City's bullpen threw seven innings and didn't allow an earned run for the 14th time in 17 games, a span in which the relievers own a 1.39 ERA."Our bullpen did a phenomenal job," said right-hander James Shields, who allowed four runs in six innings. "It's been good all season long, and today they showed why they're as good as they are."Mike Trout homered for the second straight game and owns a 1.022 OPS against left-handers this season.Albert Pujols, who recorded his 2,400th hit Saturday, is 6 for 16 off Vargas with four extra-base hits.
Garrett Richards has allowed a .040 ISO in at-bats that end with a slider in the month of May, which is 68 points below the league average over that span. During the same time frame, Alcides Escobar has failed to record an extra-base hit in at-bats that end with a slider.