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Angels' Richards, back home, faces Astros' Verlander

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Garrett Richards will take the mound for the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium on Tuesday night for the first time since April 25, 2016. That also happens to be the last time Richards won a game.

Since then, he endured long-term injuries that all but ruined nearly two full seasons. Richards torn an elbow ligament early in 2016 but decided against Tommy John surgery, instead opting for platelet-rich plasma injections.

The decision paid off as Richards was able to return in less than the typical 18-month recovery time for Tommy John surgery, and he started for the Angels on April 5, 2017, in Oakland.

After four innings, something felt wrong. He eventually was diagnosed with nerve irritation in his right biceps, causing him to miss five months. He returned Sept. 5 -- in Oakland again -- and pitched well for 3 1/3 innings, giving up four hits and one run before leaving because of a pitch limit.

On Tuesday, Richards (0-0, 1.13 ERA) and the Angels face the American League West-leading Houston Astros smack dab in the middle of a push for the postseason.

"It felt great," Richards told the Orange County Register after his outing last week against the A's. "Just to be out there and competing with my teammates, grinding out there with them instead of sitting on the side watching games go by.

"I didn't get tired toward the end. I felt pretty good. I overthrew a couple fastballs, but for the most part I was right where I wanted to be. The misses were small. I pounded the zone, got ahead of guys. Kind of did everything I wanted to do. It's a good one to build off."

He made 52 pitches in that start, and he is expected to expand his pitch count Tuesday to between 65-70 pitches. Richards hasn't faced the Astros since July 29, 2015, and he has a career mark of 5-3 with a 3.73 ERA in 12 games (nine starts) against them.

Richards is matched up against Justin Verlander, who will be making his second start for Houston since being acquired from the Detroit Tigers. Verlander pitched well in his Astros debut, giving up one run in six innings during a 3-1 victory at Seattle on Sept. 5.

That game had the feel of an Opening Day, according to Verlander.

"(There's) kind of the unknown, you don't really want to let everybody down, a new team," he said. "But these guys have made the process pretty easy on me so far, just fitting in and feeling like I'm right at home as quickly as possible."

Verlander (11-8, 3.74 ERA for the season; 1-0, 1.50 ERA for the Astros) will be asked to end a losing streak. The Astros were just swept in a four-game series at Oakland and no longer have the best record in the AL. The Cleveland Indians, riding a 19-game winning streak, are 1 1/2 games up on Houston.

Verlander saw the Angels plenty while with the Tigers, making 17 starts against them and going 6-8 with a 3.79 ERA, including one shutout.

In his one start this season against Los Angeles, Verlander was the losing pitcher after giving up four runs, five hits and five walks in six innings in a 4-1 Detroit defeat on May 14.

Though the Houston right-hander is 34 years old and is in his 13th major league season, Astros catcher Brian McCann sees a Verlander that can still bring it.

"He's still in his prime," McCann told MLB.com. "That's the incredible thing. He's still throwing 100 miles an hour. He looks young out there."