GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It has been quite an odyssey for left-hander Clayton Richard since the last time he was with the Padres in 2013. He had left shoulder surgery. He had a tour in the Cubs' bullpen. And now he's back to doing what he does best, starting in the Major Leagues.
Richard made his third Cactus League start Wednesday in an 8-7 Padres loss to the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. He left with one out in the fourth after giving up three runs on five hits and two walks, with no strikeouts.
It wasn't exactly what he had in mind, but he's taking small steps.
"I'm healthy. Everything feels good," said Richard, who missed the entire 2014 season after surgery to shave the clavicle in his left shoulder. "And I'm making steps in the right direction, so that's good."
Richard was once the main cog in a 2009 deal that sent Jake Peavy to the White Sox. The Padres got Richard back last Aug. 6 three days after the Cubs cut him loose.
Now he could very well be the Opening Day starter against the Dodgers on April 3 in Los Angeles, heading up a rotation that's very much in flux with little more than two weeks to go in the Cactus League portion of Spring Training.
Considering his recent career path, that would be something.
"Oh, without a doubt," he said. "But no matter where I line up in the rotation, I'm excited to help this team wherever I can. If it's one through five, it doesn't matter. I'm ready to go out and help wherever that is."
Considering where the Padres have gone as an organization in recent years, having Richard start the opener would be an interesting twist of fate.
"I'm not handicapping that now. I'm not in position to start declaring those kinds of things," said second-year manager Andy Green. "He's in the mix for that, but the way I look at our rotation this year, whoever has that game, it's more or less one game."
That's in stark difference compared to last season, when one of the first decisions Green made as manager was name Tyson Ross his Opening Day starter over James Shields before the first ball of camp was even tossed.
The idea was to invest responsibility in Ross, the tall right-hander and former All-Star. Shields went along with the program, but not for the ride.
The move didn't work. Ross broke down with shoulder problems of his own and never made another start. He had surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome this past October and is no longer with the team.
Shields, meanwhile, was hit hard and traded to the White Sox on June 4. He left with seven losses and a 4.28 ERA. The remainder of his season wasn't any better.
From all that trauma, opportunity came knocking for Richard, backed up in the rotation right now by Jered Weaver and Jhoulys Chacin, who both finished the 2016 season with the Angels. Back in San Diego, Richard made 11 appearances, nine of them starts. He split six decisions and had a 2.52 ERA.
He has come a long way in the past year. Much like Rich Hill's path back from elbow and shoulder surgery, from reliever to starter through Boston, Oakland and now for the Dodgers.
"The last two years, three years, man," the now 33-year-old Richard said. "I finally found my way back here. It's a little bit like Rich, another [University of] Michigan guy. He had some tough times and he got it put together. And he's throwing really well of late."
Richard pitched almost five seasons for the Padres from the Peavy trade to the surgery and won 43 games. His best was 14-9 with a 3.75 ERA in 2010, the season the Padres were knocked out of the playoff picture by the Giants on the final day of the regular season. They haven't been close since.
Imagine his surprise this past offseason when rumors started to swirl that Peavy might be coming back. It didn't happen, but it made for some interesting mind play.
"Eight years later? Who could ever have imagined something like that," Richard said. "Baseball is a strange game."
And for some, an even stranger odyssey. Just ask Richard.