ANAHEIM -- As Garrett Richards walked up the steps of the Angels' dugout on Saturday evening, his teammates on the field gave a hearty cheer. Just minutes later, they applauded him again as he returned from a bullpen session, and did not halt until he tipped his cap to the group.
Though it was a likely laugh among a group of men who have spent the better part seven months together, there was some seriousness about the cheer. Their ace was one step closer to being able to pitch in 2017.
It was a short session in the Angel Stadium bullpen, where Richards threw 20 pitches - all fastballs - at about 80% effort, but it was enough to give "The Bullet" confidence in his future.
"As of today, there is no doubt in my mind that I'll be able to pitch next year," said Richards.
It was a big day of progress for the Angels' ace from past seasons, and there is now a scheduled throwing program in place. Richards will throw another bullpen session on Monday, then have two days off and throw another. He'll repeat that pattern for the next two weeks, and face live hitters on October 1st.
In his next bullpen session, Richards says he'll start spinning breaking balls, and then test out curveballs over the course of 30-40 pitches in the following session.
"I have full confidence in it right now. It's just a matter of building arm strength and getting repitions."
Following the Angels' final game of the season on October 2nd, Richards will head for instructional league to hopefully continue his progress. He's not out of the woods just yet, though.
When the 28-year-old came out his last start on May 1st, and was diagnosed with a tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament, surgery seemed to be the only answer.
That's when he joined teammate, Andrew Heaney, in pursuing stem-cell therapy as a recovery process. Though it didn't work for Heaney, Richards saw progress from the therapy and was able to gain a healthy elbow.
There's still a bit to see before surgery is thrown out the window, but Richards hopes that his route can be the first of many for other competitors.
"I hope that this paves the way for some other guys going through the same thing. I was dead set on having surgery and we decided to go with this, and it's probably the best decision I've made for my career so far."
The test will come in Instructional League, where Richards will try to test his arm for 60 pitches or more, against live hitters. If it works, he'll be able to rest easy for the off-season, and come into Spring Training of 2017, ready to compete and pitch for his team through the season.