TEMPE, Ariz. -- Most 25-year-olds who feature three wipeout pitches tend to fall in love with the strikeout.
Not Garrett Richards.
Take Sunday, for example. Richards pitched six scoreless innings and gave up only three hits in the Angels' 5-2 win over the Indians, but he struck out just two batters. What he did do a lot of was generate early contact that resulted in weak ground balls. Not as flashy as the strikeout, but much better for pitch efficiency and getting deep into games.
"It's the best," Richards said of early contact. "I really started to focus on that in Double-A. When I started throwing my sinker and getting early contact and getting deeper into games, that's when my game evolved."
Richards throws two different fastballs in the mid-90s and backs it up with a plus slider and breaking ball -- but he's never really been a high-strikeout guy.
In four seasons in the Minors, Richards struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings (including 6.5 at Double-A in 2011). In 230 innings in the Majors, spread out over three seasons, it's 6.1 (the Major League average last year was 7.57). But Richards doesn't care how his outs come, as long as they do.
On a staff that features two guys with historically high walk rates in C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago, and a 22-year-old in Tyler Skaggs, pitch efficiency from Richards will be crucial.
"Early in the Minor Leagues, I would punch out a guy an inning," Richards said. "Once I got to Double-A, my strikeout numbers went down, but my ERA and wins were up. I went deeper into games. I wouldn't say I'm not a strikeout pitcher, but guys put the ball in play early and often, which I'm fine with. It keeps the guys in the field on their toes and keeps me deeper into games."
Pena, Torrealba, Tracy among Angels' cuts
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Catcher Yorvit Torrealba, corner infielder Chad Tracy and first baseman Carlos Pena were granted their unconditional release by the Angels on Sunday morning. The three veteran non-roster invitees were able to ask out of their Minor League contracts if not on the 40-man roster by then, and neither had any interest in starting the season in the Minor Leagues.
"Chad, Carlos and Yorvit -- they're pros and they can still play," manager Mike Scioscia said. "I'm sure they're going to find a fit somewhere. They're tough decisions. A lot of it has to do with the guidelines of March 23 really being a day to make a decision, so you can't play it out as long as you could before."
The Angels -- who also reassigned left-handed starter Wade LeBlanc to the Minor Leagues -- have 38 players remaining in camp, including three non-roster position players fighting for a spot off the bench.
John McDonald, who must be paid an extra $100,000 to be kept off the 40-man roster starting on Tuesday, looks like the favorite to be the utility infielder. Brennan Boesch, who can opt out of his deal next Sunday if he has an immediate Major League opportunity, is perceivably behind J.B. Shuck and Collin Cowgill for the backup outfield spot. And Ian Stewart, whose opt-out isn't until after Spring Training, remains an intriguing option as a left-handed hitter who can play both corner-infield spots and perhaps some second base.
"But the key for Ian is going to be really the level of offense he can bring to our club to see if he becomes a fit," Scioscia said of Stewart, who's batting .257 (9-for-35) with a homer this spring. "We'll be looking at it this week."
Torrealba, Pena and Tracy have a combined 3,320 games of Major League experience -- and all three feel like they have more left in them.
Torrealba, always a long shot because Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger are basically solidified in a platoon, indicated on Saturday that he had no interest in accepting an assignment to Triple-A Salt Lake: "I feel like I can keep playing in the big leagues. I already went through Triple-A, 12, 13 years ago. I'm pretty happy with what I've done in my career up to this point, I feel like I can keep providing more -- but in the big leagues, not [in the Minors]."
The Angels probably would've liked to take a longer look at Tracy, a 33-year-old left-handed hitter who has extensive experience at first and third base. But the deadline worked against them.
"I feel like I've showed I can play," Tracy said. "My at-bats have been good, I've played three different spots on defense [including left field], I feel like nobody has really overmatched me at the plate, and I feel like I've competed."
Pena averaged 34 homers and 97 RBIs from 2007-11, but he hit just .197 in a full season with the Rays in 2012 and was released by the Astros last July. He never really had a chance with the Angels once Albert Pujols proved he's healthy enough to play first base every day, and didn't help matters with only five hits and 14 strikeouts in 36 Cactus League at-bats.
Pena has no interest in retiring, though, for one simple reason.
"I love the way it feels when you square up a ball, when you make a good play in the field," Pena, who's represented by Scott Boras, said as he packed up his stuff on Sunday morning.
"I'm going to go home and enjoy my family, and at the same time, I'm going to stay ready. I'm expecting something good to come, so I can go out and have fun at the plate and on the field. I feel very satisfied with the work I've put in, the way I've trained, and I'm very eager to put what I've learned into practice."
Lefty Alvarez excited for opportunity with Halos
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Left-hander Jose Alvarez is on his third team in three years, from the Marlins in 2012 to the Tigers in '13 to the Angels as of Sunday morning.
"I wasn't expecting that," Alvarez said on his first day in the Angels' clubhouse, 24 hours after being acquired from the Tigers in a one-for-one deal that sent out-of-options utility infielder Andrew Romine to Detroit.
"I take it like a new opportunity in my career. We'll see what happens now."
Alvarez -- 24 years old, with two option years left -- posted a 5.82 ERA in 38 2/3 Major League innings last year. But he improved drastically in the Minor Leagues, going from a 4.22 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP and a 2.69 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 136 1/3 innings in the Marlins' Double-A affiliate to a 2.80 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and a 4.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 2/3 innings in the Tigers' Triple-A affiliate in 2013.
"Playing in winter ball last year, before I came here with the Tigers, helped me a lot," the native Venezuelan said. "I had a good year last year, and I just kept working."
Alvarez is generously listed at 5-foot-11 and keeps his fastball between 89 and 91 mph, but he features an above-average changeup and a breaking ball that's a legit third pitch. A report in Spring Training two years ago said that Alvarez was set to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, but Alvarez said that was erroneous and he's never had any issues with his arm.
The Angels view him either as a starter in Triple-A or a long reliever in their Major League bullpen.
"I feel comfortable doing both, from starting to relieving," Alvarez said before pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings against the Cubs' Triple-A team on Sunday, giving up three hits, walking none and striking out five. "They're different, but you have to make adjustments. As a reliever, you have to pay attention to the game, be ready at any time. As a starter, you're going to be in one game -- throw everything there."
• Dane De La Rosa felt good during a 30-pitch bullpen session on Saturday, his first since sustaining a right forearm strain on March 6. The Angels have one more bullpen scheduled for De La Rosa, but could pitch him in a game, instead.
• Sean Burnett, who's expected to start the season on the disabled list while still recovering from August forearm surgery, is expected to start playing catch again on Monday. Burnett experienced some stiffness during his fifth bullpen session on Friday.
• Hector Santiago's arm felt perfectly healthy on Sunday, one day after giving up six runs in five-plus innings. Santiago said he just had a hard time dialing it up for a Minor League game that was essentially a controlled environment for the 26-year-old left-hander.
"It felt like I was pitching in a desert out there," Santiago said.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.