Richards, Angels look to tame Blue Jays

The Los Angeles Angels will send power righty Garrett Richards to the mound Friday as they start a series against a Toronto Blue Jays and their lineup of mashers.

Richards will look to exorcise his Rogers Centre demons after putting up a 6.57 ERA in four previous appearances in Toronto. That is his third-worst ERA at any opposing park.

This season has been different so far for Richards as he tossed four quality starts already after having eight all of last season. Let’s take a look at some of his improvements.

Bringing the heat: The righty’s fastball has improved by a full mile per hour in terms of average velocity -- from 95 to 96 -- topping out as high as 98 miles per hour.

This has translated to a swing-and-miss rate of 21 percent on heaters -- ninth-best among starters.

In the past, Richards missed his spots too often in the strike zone, especially up. And we all know what happens to mistake fastballs up in the zone, no matter how hard you throw them. It appears pitching coach Mike Butcher addressed that this offseason because Richards has been doing a better job keeping the ball down in the zone this season.

From 2011 to 2013, opponents hit .293 against Richards’ fastball, but this season that has been cut to .230.

Sapping opponents power: When Richards debuted in 2011, he allowed four home runs in 14 innings, as he was torched for a .618 opponent slugging percentage.

In each successive season in the big leagues though, he has lowered that slugging percentage.

This season? Richards is allowing a .243 slugging percentage, which ranks tops among all qualified starters -- just ahead of Florida Marlins’ phenom Jose Fernandez.

Finishing hitters: A situational improvement Richards has made is in his ability to end at-bats when he gets two strikes. Entering this season he allowed hitters to bat .214, while striking out 35 percent of batters when getting to a two-strike count. This season, those numbers have improved to a .101 opponent’s average and a 52 percent strikeout rate.

Trying to tame Toronto: Several Blue Jays have had success in their career against Richards.

Jose Reyes and Colby Rasmus have each gone 3-6 lifetime against him with two extra-base hits. Edwin Encarnacion’s battles against Richards have been all-or-nothing as he has struck out four times in eight at-bats, but also has three hits including a home run.