ST. LOUIS — Trevor Michael Richards is a pitcher who carries three first names and a fastball as understated as his lean, 6-foot-3 frame.
What set him apart during his college years at Drury University, a summer with the Sedalia Bombers and two seasons with the independent league Gateway Grizzlies, in Sauget, Illinois, was a set of light-grey hair among his 20-something peers.
When asked if he and the team gave Richards grief for his hair color, Bombers head coach Craig McAndrews replied via text, “Hahaha oh yeah.”
Now, having carved out a spot in the Miami Marlins rotation, Richards is better known as a man who carries one of the best changeups in the game.
Commanding it on both sides of the plate, the pitch tumbles and dances and runs into a near-unhittable quadrants of the strike zone. As one of three former Sedalia Bombers (Mike Kickham, Luke Voit) to break the majors, Miami’s soft-spoken footsoldier credits his rise to the majors to his circle change.
“Every changeup is a little different,” Richards said. “It just depends on the person. It’s gotten me to where I am.”
Richards amassed 41 1/3 innings in just six games started for the 2013 Bombers, lasting five or more innings in each outing. He pitched at least seven innings in four straight starts, including a pair of eight-strikeout wins against the Joplin Outlaws.
He was named Miami’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2017 after his first full season with a minor-league affiliate. After two seasons in the Frontier League, the Marlins signed Richards as an undrafted free agent.
One evening before the Marlins introduced prospect Zac Gallen to the majors with intrigue and two nights before St. Louis welcomed Albert Pujols to Busch Stadium with adoration, Richards, of Aviston, Illinois, enjoyed a modest homecoming June 19 among college teammates, friends and family as Miami challenged the Cards.
“It’s always fun coming back to Busch,” Richards said. “This is where I grew up watching baseball games. I have a lot of memories here. Coming here to be able to play, even though it’s against the Cardinals, it’s still fun coming back here to pitch in front of my — it isn’t my home town — but home city.”
During his start, Richards walked two batters and did not allow a hit until the fifth frame, which he ended by retiring Matt Carpenter looking. He later recorded his 200th career strikeout. Delivering two more more changeups (42) than fastballs (40), Richards was lifted after surrendering a run in the sixth of an 11-inning loss that moved the Marlins’ record to 26-46.
Lasting five innings in all but three of his 18 starts before the All-Star break, Richards has proved reliable for a rebuilding Miami club. His steady mindset reflected lessons learned in Sedalia circa 2013, where he worked to refine his arsenal beyond fastball-changeup.
“It’s all about development,” Richards said. “It’s getting better every day,” Richards said. “You can’t look at the big picture. There are things that you can control, things you can’t."
Richards, 26, spends his offseasons in Springfield and is due to marry his fiance, Aunna, later this year. As a changeup artist keen to the relationship between speed and perception, Richards said time moved as fast as he worked from Sedalia to Gateway to Miami.
“It’s a long road, but it went fairly quickly,” Richards said. “You kind of get used to it as you go. Just develop everywhere, always working on pitching, working on new things, and the time honestly flies by.”