Garrett Richards' spring training debut for the Boston Red Sox on Monday was bad. But it could have been worse.
We mean that literally, as manager Alex Cora deployed Major League Baseball's new "mercy rule" for 2021 spring training that allows teams to end an inning after their pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches.
Here's how that played out Monday in the Red Sox' spring training game against the Atlanta Braves: Richards had recorded just one out and walked in a run with the bases loaded on his 23rd pitch. So, Cora invoked the mercy rule and the half-inning ended with the bases loaded and one out.
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Richards trotted out for the second inning and set the Braves down in order, finishing with two runs allowed on three hits with two walks and a strikeout. But the veteran hurler wasn't exactly pleased about needing to be bailed out.
"Obviously, you want to finish it and you want to make all the outs that your outing requires," Richards told reporters after the game, via the Associated Press' Jimmy Golen. "So, yeah, it was a little frustrating."
Richards, who signed a one-year, $10 million contract with Boston in January, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career and hasn't thrown more than 100 innings in a season since 2015. The 32-year-old was solid for the San Diego Padres last season -- a 4.03 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 51.1 innings pitched -- but Monday's showing proved he has some rust to shake off with his new club.
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"By all means, not happy about it. Today's outing is not what you're going to see from me on a regular basis, I'll tell you that right now," Richards said. "I just needed to stay a little bit more in competitive mode versus mechanical mode. So once that switch kind of flipped, everything kind of felt great again."
The mercy rule helped Richards flip that switch by allowing him to go out for a second inning, rather than wallow through a nightmare frame that he may not have escaped from before getting the hook.
Considering the state of the Red Sox' pitching staff -- which ranked 28th in team ERA last season -- this may not be the last time Boston fans see the mercy rule this spring.