Richard hopes to give Padres pitching hope vs. Nationals

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Padres‘ starting pitching has been a mess.

Things have been on a downhill spiral ever since right-hander Dinelson Lamet was lost for the season — due to Tommy John surgery — days before the season opener.

While his replacement, left-handed rookie Joey Lucchesi, has been a bright spot, the rest of the rotation has struggled. Only the Cincinnati Reds have a worse rotation than the Padres’ 5.33 earned run average.

On Tuesday, left-hander Clayton Richard goes into his eighth start of the season with a 6.21 ERA. And his spot in the rotation seems safe for the moment, although Padres manager Andy Green announced another change Monday afternoon.

Right-hander Bryan Mitchell, who is 0-3 with a 6.47 ERA in seven starts, has been demoted to the bullpen. His next scheduled start will be made by right-hander Jordan Lyles on Thursday. Lyles, who has a 3.66 ERA in 13 relief appearances, will be the eighth Padre to make a start this season.

Two of the eight — Robbie Erlin and Mitchell — are in the bullpen. Luis Perdomo is at Triple-A El Paso. The Padres have already promoted prized prospects Lucchesi and Eric Lauer — both members of the 2016 draft class — from the minors this season.

But there is no hint of a demotion for the 34-year-old Richard as he prepares to square off against Washington right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (0-0, 3.00 ERA) Tuesday night.

One, aside from Perdomo, no one else in the Padres system seems prepared to step into the rotation. Two, Richard was granted a two-year contract extension last winter.

Richard is 1-4 with three straight losses. And the Padres are 2-5 in his seven starts. Since Opening Day, Richard has not allowed fewer than three earned runs in any of his six starts while going deeper than five innings only once. In his most recent outing May 2 in San Francisco, Richard lasted only four innings at AT&T Park, giving up seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and four walks with six strikeouts.

Richard’s ERA since he allowed one run over seven innings on Opening Day is 7.34.

But there is hope. His one quality start since Opening Day was against a team outside the National League West. Green has expressed concern that division rivals might be onto Richard’s new arm slot and repertoire. And the Nationals are from outside the National League West.

Richard’s career 3.67 ERA against Washington is his lowest against any team he has made at least eight starts against. He is 1-4 against Washington in 11 games (seven starts). The Nationals are hitting .228 against Richards in 49 innings.

Hellickson, meanwhile, has a 6.70 ERA in eight career starts against the Padres, although he didn’t face San Diego last year. Hellickson is 2-4 against the Padres and has allowed 34 runs (32 earned) on 50 hits and 13 walks with 41 strikeouts in 43 innings.

Hellickson has no decisions in four starts for the Nationals this season. He has allowed seven runs on 18 hits and four walks with 13 strikeouts in 21 innings with a very respectable 1.05 WHIP.