OAKLAND -- Saturday's game offered yet another crushing blow to the Angels' faint postseason hopes.
For Garrett Richards, though, it may have been a steppingstone.
Making his first start since April 30 -- a span in which he didn't go more than 3 2/3 innings or top 63 pitches -- Richards shut out the A's through five innings, giving up three hits and two walks in a 78-pitch, four-strikeout outing.
"As the game went on, Garrett's command started to appear," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who used replaced starter Joe Blanton for a 1-2-3 eighth inning. "He had really good life on his fastball, a good breaking ball and definitely gave us a chance to win. He started off a little fuzzy, trying to find his release point, but once he did, he pitched a fine game."
In three previous stints in the Angels' rotation -- toward the end of 2011, in the middle of '12 and in late April of '13 -- Richards has compiled a 4.92 ERA in 16 starts. His focus this time around is to "keep things simple, try not to overthrow and fill up the zone in the bottom half."
His arm, Richards said, "felt fine" through the fifth inning of an outing he knew wouldn't top 80 pitches.
"I've learned different things as I've gone along, and I'm starting to put stuff together and feeling more comfortable in my delivery, more consistent, which is something I've really been working towards," Richards said. "That's only going to help me fill up the zone more and be more successful."
Pujols leaves club to have ailing foot examined
OAKLAND -- Albert Pujols was out of the Angels' lineup and back in Southern California for Saturday's game against the Athletics, having his nagging left foot evaluated after aggravating it during Friday night's ninth-inning at-bat.
Asked if Pujols' absence will extend longer than a day, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said: "We'll see."
In Pujols' place, Mike Trout batted third for the first time in his career, and he may spend at least a few more days there.
"It's sorer than anything he's dealt with or he's been playing through," Scioscia said of Pujols. "We'll just see what happens."
The Angels hadn't received results of Pujols' MRI as of late Saturday afternoon, but outfielder Kole Calhoun was boarding a flight to Oakland to join the Angels because Pujols was likely to be placed on the disabled list. Calhoun, already on the 40-man roster, was batting .354 with 12 homers in Triple-A, and .583 over his last 10 games.
Pujols has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot all season, but until now, it had been manageable. The 33-year-old right-handed slugger had started 65 of his 99 games at designated hitter and found a way to produce despite obvious pain, posting a .258/.330/.437 slash line with 17 homers and 64 RBIs.
Pujols has gone 12-for-34 with a couple of homers since the four-day All-Star break, but he said prior to Friday's game that the foot feels "the same," adding: "I still feel some pain. I still feel it bothering me a bit. That's something that in the offseason, with time and with rest, hopefully the pain can go away."
Then, with two outs in the ninth inning against Grant Balfour, Pujols ripped a liner down the left-field line to plate two runs, but he got only a single out of it and signaled towards the dugout to be replaced by a pinch-runner.
Plantar fasciitis manifests when the ligament that supports the arch of the foot is strained, causing pain when walking or standing. Pujols has dealt with spurts of the ailment for most of his career, but it's been prolonged and severely worse in 2013.
A common occurrence among athletes dealing with plantar fasciitis is that the inflamed ligament snaps, which eases the tension and eliminates the need for surgery. But that also sidelines them for a while, and for Pujols, a snapped ligament could potentially end his season.
The Angels will wait on word from team doctors before taking the next step.
"He's the foundation of your lineup and you want to build around him," Scioscia said of Pujols. "We'll shift Mike into the three-hole and see where Albert is."
Scioscia has long considered Trout an ideal No. 3 hitter long term, despite the fact he has game-changing speed and has spent the majority of his professional career in the leadoff spot. Trout batted leadoff during an historic rookie season in 2012 and has spent most of 2013 batting second, taking advantage of more opportunities with runners on base and posting a .324/.400/.564 slash line in 100 games.
Asked if he sees himself as a top-of-the-order hitter or a middle-of-the-order hitter, Trout said: "I don't know. Last year, my job was to be a leadoff hitter, and I'm just going to keep the same approach I've been having in the two-spot. I've been getting more opportunities to drive in more runs anyway in the two-spot and just look at it as an opportunity to drive in some more runs."
Vargas feeling '100 percent' after bullpen session
OAKLAND -- Jason Vargas could be on track to start a rehab assignment next week. The Angels left-hander threw a 45-pitch bullpen session Friday, using all of his pitches at full-intensity, and is ready to take the next step in his recovery.
"I feel 100 percent," Vargas said Saturday. "I feel good. I feel fantastic."
The natural progression for Vargas likely would be an up-and-down session Monday, in which he simulates sitting between innings, then facing hitters on Thursday and perhaps the start of a rehab assignment next Sunday. How long that rehab assignment lasts remains to be seen, but Vargas remains on track to return to the Angels' rotation by mid-August.
Vargas, 6-4 with a 3.65 ERA in 14 starts, has missed about five turns through the rotation while recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot in his left armpit area.
"Our medical department's totally happy with where the surgery was," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's fine. There are no restrictions there. It's a matter of getting his arm in shape."
• Sean Burnett (left elbow impingement) threw his second bullpen session on Friday and felt good, saying: "I'm getting there, I guess. I haven't really let it go yet, but we'll see. It feels better than it did six weeks ago, but it's a process. I'm taking it slow. It feels like I'm getting better."
• Peter Bourjos (right wrist fracture) took some dry swings on Saturday, marking the first time he's swung a bat since landing on the disabled list July 1. Asked when he can start hitting a baseball, Bourjos said: "At this point, they just want to see how I recover tomorrow."
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.