Richards’ injury leaves gaping hole in Angels’ rotation

After Mike Trout, there is not a player more important to the Angels’ season than Garrett Richards.

In 2014, Richards has been a breath of fresh air for Mike Scioscia’s Angels, taking the ball every fifth day and essentially becoming the team’s ace and Cy Young Award candidate.

His WAR of 4.5 is eighth among major-league pitchers. To put that in perspective, second in the Angels’ rotation in WAR is Jered Weaver with a 2.0.

On Wednesday, the Angels witnessed a huge blow to their 2014 postseason chances when, just 40 pitches into his 26th start of the season, Richards went down with what the team is calling left knee patellar injury.

There is no timetable for Richards’ return. The Angels’ starter will fly back to Los Angeles on Thursday to be re-evaluated, the team announced.

Richards’ knee injury is the second significant injury to the Angels’ rotation in less than a month. Last week, Tyler Skaggs had to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.

After Weaver and C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker has been a pleasant surprise and Hector Santiago has bounced back from an unflattering start to the season.

The Angels now will have to find a fifth arm to replace Richards in the rotation, but there aren’t many flattering options to choose from.

On the farm, there’s Wade LeBlanc, who’s in his second stint in the Angels organization this season. LeBlanc is 10-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 21 starts this season for Triple-A Salt Lake. Randy Wolf, also in Salt Lake, is 5-2 with a 4.68 ERA. Wolf is with his fifth team of the season. Chris Volstad also is in Triple-A after signing with the club as a free agent last month. In six starts, he’s 2-1 with a 5.45 ERA.

In Double-A Arkansas, lefty Michael Roth, who appeared out of the Angels’ pen on two occassions, is 10-7 with a 2.76 ERA in 21 games with the Travelers. Other options potentially could come through a waiver deal.

The pennant race just got tougher for the Angels, who now hold a 1 1/2-game lead over Oakland in the American League West.