ANAHEIM -- Two men walked onto the field at Angel Stadium on Monday afternoon, both with baseball gloves. The two tossed a baseball back-and-forth, 25 times, about 45 feet the distance between them. It may seem like a common exercise, but this time, it was a pleasantry.
Bernard Li, or "Bernie," who serves as a Physical Therapist for the Angels was one of the men. The other? Garrett Richards.
After another follow-up visit with Dr. Steve H. Yoon, both Richards and the Angels' received the news that there was "significant improvement" in the recovery in Richards' elbow.
Following a tear in his right ulnar-collateral ligament in the elbow - an injury that usually requires 12-16 months of recovery from surgery - Richards opted for stem-cell therapy, and now has an opportunity to avoid surgery all together and potentially pitch by the fall.
"It's moving in the right direction," said Richards. "We've got nothing but positive news up until this point."
Richards arrived to the Angels' clubhouse Monday afternoon, with a smile, and put on bits and pieces of his uniform, preparing to throw a baseball for the first time in 105 days. He left for the field, and returned not long after with an even larger smile.
"Everything felt 100% normal. I know it was just the first day but everything felt good so far."
Though the throwing wasn't extensive, it was a sign pointing forward for a return to the mound at some point this season.
"Playing catch after being out for three and a half months, you have to mentally tell yourself not to baby the ball or manipulate it in anways so I tried to do what came naturally and everything felt fine."
If Richards can come out of his recovery with full health, and is able to avoid Tommy John surgery, the Angels will be able to fill a void they direly need assistance in.
Looking forward to the 2017 Angels and their likely rotation, only three healthy starting pitcher names shoot off the page. Adding Richards to that list could not only put the Halos closer to filling a five-man rotation, but also allow the Angels to spend money to fill other holes in their roster.
"Getting him back obviously makes filling some of the other spots a little easier," said Angels' manager, Mike Scioscia. "We know Billy Eppler is working hard to not only make us deeper right now but as the calendar turns to next year. You can never bank on a player coming back, but the fact Garrett has shown so much progress makes [us] more optimistic about the five guys we'll have next year.
Before the Angels are out of the woods, Richards will have to show he can pitch in a competitive atmosphere before the season ends. That doesn't necessarily draw to a Major League game, but likely instructional league or the Arizona Fall League.
"The true test is going to be when I get off the mound, throwing breaking balls and such," Richards said. "I think once I get past that, it'll be not only for me mentally but if the results are what we want then take it into a normal off-season and get ready for next year which is exactly what we want."
Richards will be reevaluated in six-weeks (around mid-September), and that will be the telling sign in whether he can pitch this season or not. However, Monday was a giant leap forward in looking to the future.
"[It's] great news," exclaimed Scioscia. "It's nice to get a bit of good news for a change. We're excited about it."
Regardless of what the results show in six weeks, it's a confidence boost for the club and player who's life it will impact.
"I can lay my head down at night knowing I did everything I possibly could," said Richards, smiling.