ANAHEIM (AP) — Garrett Richards thinks he’s ready for a regular spot in the Los Angeles Angels’ crowded rotation, even after ace Jered Weaver returns from injury.
He’ll get no argument from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who learned all about this 24-year-old with the nasty fastball during the biggest game of his young career.
Richards pitched four-hit ball into the ninth inning of his sixth career start, Albert Pujols homered and made two stellar defensive plays, and the Angels beat Arizona 2-0 Sunday for their 18th win in 24 games.
Rookie Mike Trout ended a 1-for-20 slump with an RBI double in the seventh inning for the Angels, who posted their major league-best ninth shutout victory — and their second in a row after Ervin Santana’s one-hitter Saturday night.
Richards (2-0) nearly matched Santana’s numbers, if not his unhittable stuff, and the Angels celebrated yet another series victory.
“Most of the guys getting on the base with me were saying, ‘Man, where did this kid come from?'” said Pujols, who has nine homers and 26 RBIs since May 15. “He’s so young, and he’s already got the stuff, which is good, because you can’t teach that.”
Richards repeatedly escaped trouble in the longest start of his career, striking out five and walking four. Despite occasional lapses in control, he has thrown 12 straight scoreless innings while capitalizing on a chance to start for the Angels while Weaver recovers from lower-back pain.
“I’m up here to take advantage of my opportunities,” Richards said. “I feel that I’m ready to stick here and help this team win, and it’s just a matter of getting opportunities. They’re going to make a good decision, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Richards left after walking Miguel Montero on four pitches to open the ninth, but Ernesto Frieri got three straight outs for his seventh save.
Manager Mike Scioscia realizes the Angels have a big decision to make when Weaver returns. The Angels ace felt strong after a bullpen session Sunday, and the club will decide his immediate future in the next couple of days, Scioscia said.
“We wouldn’t have given (Richards) the ball if we didn’t think he was ready for the major leagues,” Scioscia said. “He’s shown he’s ready, and his stuff is major-league quality. Certainly he’s opened some eyes with these starts.”
After losing out to Jerome Williams for the fifth rotation spot out of spring training, Richards went 0-2 in seven appearances last year. The 2009 first-round pick has been largely outstanding in his current call-up, allowing just two earned runs in 21 innings.
The surging Angels (36-31), who moved a season-high five games over .500, have won 12 of their last 13 interleague series. Los Angeles is easily the majors’ best interleague team since the start of 2007, going 70-32.
Orange County native Ian Kennedy (5-7) allowed six hits over eight strong innings for the Diamondbacks, but his teammates haven’t scored in 21 consecutive innings, leading to a somber clubhouse before Arizona headed home.
“This is kind of a recurring theme for us,” Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said. “Not to take anything away from (Richards), but we’ve obviously got to make some adjustments. … It’s frustrating, but we’ll regroup and we’ll get home.”
Kennedy, who grew up just south of Angel Stadium in Huntington Beach, bounced back impressively from a poor start against Texas, striking out six. A 21-game winner last season, he still has lost seven of his last nine starts — and his teammates’ struggles make for a slim margin for error.
“Ian threw a great game, too, but we just couldn’t put any runs on the board for him,” said Chris Young, who was 0 for 3 with a walk. “Guys are grinding, but maybe we’re pressing a little bit too much. We have to make adjustments faster than we are.”
Pujols led off the fourth inning with his 10th homer of the season and the 455th of his career, hitting the bottom of the fake rock pile beyond center field. The three-time NL MVP has the game’s best interleague batting average since 2001, but was hitless in the first two games against Arizona after an eight-game hitting streak that included seven multihit games.
Pujols also made a sparkling defensive play in the fifth, gloving Josh Bell’s screaming grounder at his feet and completing a double play to erase an Arizona threat.
“You don’t practice that,” Pujols said with a grin.
Richards retired 10 straight between Pujols’ double-play turn and Willie Bloomquist’s two-out single in the eighth when shortstop Erick Aybar couldn’t handle a grounder. Jason Kubel added another single, but Pujols ended the inning by tracking down Justin Upton’s foul pop next to the Diamondbacks’ dugout, reaching far into the television camera well and bobbling the ball before controlling it.
NOTES: Peter Bourjos scored on Trout’s double in the seventh, snapping an 0-for-20 Angels skid with runners in scoring position. … Kennedy became a father for the second time a week ago. … Trout was the AL’s co-player of the week last week, stirring more talk of an All-Star berth for the 20-year-old speedster. He then went hitless in his first 11 at-bats against Arizona. … After the game, Los Angeles optioned C Hank Conger back to Triple-A Salt Lake. The Angels will make a corresponding move Monday, when C Bobby Wilson is expected to return from injury.