TEMPE, Ariz. — Garrett Richards' locker at Tempe Diablo Stadium is between those of C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver, not Ernesto Frieri and Sean Burnett, and that's a good thing.
Locker location means a lot to the 25-year-old right-hander, who has been given a firm role for the first time in four major-league spring trainings with the Angels.
"It's really reassuring," Richards said. "The past three big-league camps I've sat across the room. This big-league camp I'm sitting in the starting rotation side. It gives you confidence. This is ultimately where I wanted to be, right here."
Indeed, Richards is right in the middle of the Angels' projected starting rotation. He's the expected No. 3 starter, between Weaver and Wilson and, likely, left-handers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs.
He earned that role with steady second-half pitching last season. After he was moved to the rotation in late July, Richards posted a 3.72 ERA in 13 starts, averaging nearly six innings.
He began the season in the bullpen and was mostly dominant before switching to a starting role when Weaver got hurt. Richards made four April starts ï¿½ one great, one bad, two OK ï¿½ and then went back to the bullpen, where he remained for three months before the permanent move.
To prepare for a season's worth of 100-plus-pitch outings, Richards said he worked out six a days a week in his hometown of Edmond, Okla., lifting more weights than in past winters to build stamina.
There's also the matter of easing the strain on his arm. Richards has never thrown more than 157 innings in a calendar year, and he throws across his body, which he acknowledges makes repeating his delivery "difficult."
"My delivery right now is pretty consistent as far as moving parts," he said. "There's a checklist that I have to meet in order to be successful throwing a baseball. It's really just a feel thing. I know what it feels like when it's on, and it's just about chasing that feeling consistently."
Counting Richards, the trio rounding out the Angels rotation has an average age of 24 and 69 collective starts. That's about two seasons worth of starts between them.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia expressed little worry about that fact.
"We've got some guys that are young and some guys with not a lot of experience, but they have the experience of at least touching the major leagues and knowing what it's about," Scioscia said Saturday. "These guys have terrific stuff and terrific arms. They're ready for the challenge."
Said Richards: "I think the young kid who's going out to try and prove something is a dangerous thing, personally."
FREESE AND PUJOLS
In the spring of 2001, David Freese was a senior at Lafayette High in Wildwood, Mo., a St. Louis suburb about 30 minutes west of Busch Stadium. Albert Pujols was a rookie lighting it up out of nowhere for the Cardinals.
Freese, now the Angels' third baseman and big offseason offensive acquisition, remembers it well.
"The city was on fire," said Freese, 30. "He came out of the gates and did his .330, 30 homers, 100 RBI deal."
Pujols continued to do that same deal for more than a decade ï¿½ until last season, when he was crippled by leg injuries and hit 17 home runs in 99 games.
Freese doesn't have any complex theories as to why his old Cardinals teammate struggled.
"I think it's just baseball," Freese said. "I think we're all human, and I think he's going to turn the page and come into this year and try to help the team win."
Freese hit just .262 with nine homers for the Cardinals in 2013, despite their deep playoff run. When did he turn the page?
"I turned it the day after the World Series," he said. "Later in the winter, it's easier to reflect on how cool of a season that was, whether you personally struggle or not."