03/03/09 7:01 PM EST
Richmond finds self in unique situation
Trying to earn a spot in rotation, hurler faces own teammates
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
It was a unique situation for Richmond, who is taking a break from the Blue Jays' camp in order to help Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Before heading to Toronto for the first round of the tournament, Richmond was charged with the task of facing the Jays in an exhibition against the Canadian squad.
"I've never had to experience that before, but it was cool," said Richmond, who then managed a slight laugh. "I've played with a lot of those guys before. I mean, obviously, I'm in camp with them. I wish I paid a little bit more attention to what they could hit and what they couldn't hit."
The rare meeting between the Canadian clubs also afforded the Blue Jays a different way of viewing Richmond -- a leading candidate for a spot in Toronto's rotation. Jays manager Cito Gaston and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg had to sit tight on the bench during Richmond's outing, leaving the coaching to the instructors in the visiting dugout.
Richmond left the game with two outs in the third inning after logging 45 pitches against Toronto, and he then shifted to the bullpen to work through another 20 tosses. It was the right-hander's final appearance in Florida before the World Baseball Classic, which includes first-round pool play at Rogers Centre with Canada competing against the United States, Venezuela and Italy.
The Toronto portion of the Classic begins on Saturday, when Team Canada and Team USA square off. Richmond would have undoubtedly loved to start in that opener, but it's not clear when he'll make his first trip up to the familiar mound. No matter who he faces, the Blue Jays believe it will be an interesting way to evaluate his progress.
"It'll actually be a good test for him," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "He's playing against more conditioned players, as far as hitters go, and more advanced hitters. I don't think it's going to hurt a guy like him."
Against the Blue Jays, Richmond, who is a rookie at 29 years old, allowed two runs on four hits with two strikeouts and one walk. He allowed hits to the first two batters he faced and was pulled after allowing three runners to reach base with two outs in the third. Richmond said he was working on his changeup in the outing and tired toward the end.
Richmond said Denis Boucher, Team Canada's pitching coach, has been working with him on improving his changeup, and the pitcher added that Paul Quantrill, who is serving as Canada's bullpen coach, has helped as well. Richmond made sure to also praise Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who is closely monitoring the righty's throwing program.
"I'm just spoiled rotten right now and I'm just trying to soak it all up," Richmond said.
Beyond working with three pitching coaches, Richmond has also had to adjust to different catchers. With Team Canada, he's enjoyed working with Dodgers catcher Russell Martin -- arguably the top backstop in the National League. Richmond noted that it's more difficult for a catcher to adjust to a new pitcher than for a pitcher to switch receivers.
"It's a lot harder for the catcher," Richmond said. "He did a great job. He came out to the mound one time and was like, 'Don't worry. I'm going to get better.' I just laughed. 'You're good enough. Let me just hit your glove.'"
Team Canada is leaning toward using pitcher Mike Johnson against the United States in the first game of the double-elimination tourney. Richmond isn't likely to start the opener, considering he'd be working on only three days' rest. Richmond is expected to pitch in either the second or third game for Team Canada, depending on the outcome of its matchup with Team USA.
Richmond -- a native of North Vancouver, British Columbia -- said he's not worrying about what team he faces.
"I want to go whenever they need me and whenever it helps the team win," Richmond said. "To be totally honest with you, we're trying to get two wins like we did last time and move on to the second round. That's our main objective. ... I'm just a pawn in this game. I just want to be used and I'm happy I'm going to be used, and it seems like I'm going to be in a pretty big game."
Richmond has found himself in a prominent role with Canada due to the long list of pitchers not participating in the Classic. Richmond quickly climbed the depth chart with the losses of Ryan Dempster, Jeff Francis, Rich Harden and Erik Bedard. Canada has a relatively inexperienced pitching staff as a result, making Richmond one of the leaders of the group.
That's a role Richmond is happy to accept.
"I like to help in any way I can," Richmond said. "If it's saying I'm a leader, I'll take it, because we've got a lot of other guys on this team, too, who are veterans in the big leagues. Whatever they say, they get us going, they get us prepared. If I can help deliever with the pitching staff, it'd be an honor. I'll just go out there and help as much as I can and lead by example."
Richmond believes pitching inside Rogers Centre can only help. Not only did he gain experience there in his brief tour with Toronto last season, but there's also the crowd factor. The opener against the United States is expected to draw more than 40,000 fans -- something Richmond is looking forward to seeing.
"It's comfortable, because I've already had a few starts up there," Richmond said. "But the 45,000 screaming Canadians with maple leaves? That's a little different, but I don't usually get nervous."
Richmond also doesn't think people should count the Canadians out, especially after the team upset the United States in the 2006 Classic.
"We always get underestimated," Richmond said. "We beat the U.S. last time and it's just that you can never count us out. We're on home turf now in Canada, and that's going to help boost us."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.