Unfortunately for them, a key misplay Sunday proved costly in a 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros.
Richards (0-1), pitching for the first time since having knee surgery late last season, gave up three earned runs on five hits and four walks in five innings.
"It wasn't a terrible first outing, I don't think," Richards said. "They had some balls that went their way, and sometimes, that's the game."
Richards struggled in recent rehab starts at Triple-A Salt Lake but seemed to be back at his top form from 2014 in a familiar place where he has enjoyed success in the past.
Richards entered Sunday having allowed just one run across 15 innings with a 3-0 record at Minute Maid Park.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he was encouraged by Richards' performance, both in his mechanics and his defense.
"I think he showed that, as far as delivering the baseball, he's fine," Scioscia said. "And I think he also showed that moving around the mound, he's fine. So those are two hurdles that he had cleared in his rehab starts. But he did well today."
Richards struck out four. He fanned a swinging Jed Lowrie in the fifth, but the ball was in the dirt and bounced away.
Catcher Drew Butera's throw to first appeared to hit Lowrie in helmet — he said it missed — scoring a run and setting up another.
"We didn't play a crisp game, defensively," Scioscia said. "We let some things slip away. If you're not swinging the bats, you've got to make sure you're getting the outs you're supposed to get, and we're having trouble doing that."
Scott Feldman (1-2) allowed two runs and six hits. In his previous start, Oakland tagged him for eight runs in five innings.
Luke Gregerson threw a perfect ninth for his second save.
Richards walked two in the first inning before escaping a bases-loaded jam.
Valbuena's two-run shot in the third put Houston on top 2-0. Cron's homer tied it in the fourth.
Pujols connected against Pat Neshek in the eighth.
For the third time in the last four seasons, the Angels (5-7) are at least two games under .500 after 12 games.
"Obviously, this is a slow start, but that's the way it goes," Pujols said. "We just need to flip the page, get on the plane, get a good night's sleep and play these big series coming up with Oakland and Texas."
Angels: Richards was activated from the disabled list Sunday. The Angels optioned LHP Adam Wilk to Triple-A Salt Lake after the game Saturday.
Astros: RHP Josh Fields (groin) is set to throw a two-inning outing Monday for Triple-A Fresno. He has made four rehab appearances for Fresno, allowing two earned runs in four innings.
Angels: RHP Matt Shoemaker (2-0) goes for his third straight win to begin the season at home against Oakland on Monday. The Angels have won 10 straight games he has appeared in dating to last season.
Astros: RHP Asher Wojciechowski (0-1) makes his second start of the season third appearance Monday at Seattle. Wojciechowski, who was recalled from Triple-A Fresno Friday, threw four scoreless innings in relief Monday against Oakland.
ALTUVE HEATING UP
Altuve extended his hitting streak to nine games with his three hits. The second baseman, who led the majors in hits last season with 225, already has four multihit games this season and two three-hit games.
Pujols received scattered boos from fans at Minute Maid Park, possibly from fans who still remember his deciding homer in Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series in Houston.
Pujols now has 25 home runs in his career at Minute Maid Park, which is tops among visiting players all-time. His third homer of the season was the 523rd of his career.
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