Royals’ Richard Lovelady adjusting to life in a big-league bullpen

As much as every baseball player wants to get to the big leagues, it’s not often clear what it means to be “ready” until he gets to the majors. Royals rookie relief pitcher Richard Lovelady has learned to appreciate just what it means to compete on a nightly basis in the majors.

Lovelady’s candid assessment of his readiness, or lack thereof, at the end of a stellar 2018 minor-league season proved somewhat refreshing in spring training.

The left-hander spoke this spring in Arizona about not believing he would have been suited to compete in the majors at the end of last season. He needed to add another pitch to his repertoire in order to make himself a big league pitcher.

Since being called up from Triple-A on April 9, Lovelady, 23, has realized there’s an even bigger aspect of the transition to the majors that he didn’t truly appreciate until having been thrown into the fire. The grind becomes daily in every sense of the term once you’ve put your arms through a Royals jersey, whether you’re ready or not.

“I think the biggest adjustment is knowing that you could possibly throw every single day, and keeping that mindset and preparedness I guess is going to keep you from being a guy that can do it every day and a guy that can’t,” Lovelady said.

In the team’s 19 games since he’s been called up, Lovelady has made eight appearances and pitched seven innings. He pitched two scoreless innings in Sunday’s loss to the Angels. That would put the 6-foot tall, 175-pound Georgia native on pace to pitch in 60 games this season, his first in the majors. By comparison, he made 46 appearances in 2018 for Triple-A Omaha.

“Mentally, you have to be ready to be able to go back-to-back-to-back days,” Lovelady said. “Physically, you have to prepare your body for it whether that be in the training room — getting to know what your body needs, how it reacts to be able to bounce back fast enough — whether it be taking a couple pain relievers, getting a little work done on you (by training staff) or just getting with (strength and conditioning coach Ryan Stoneberg) and making sure you’re stretching and your strong enough to maintain this high level.”

In the minors, Lovelady expected a couple days off if he threw two innings. If he threw just one inning with a low pitch count, he’d have a chance of hearing his name called the next day, but even then it usually only happened if circumstances dictated.

Last season, Lovelady struck out 71 and walked 21 in 73 innings, while opponents batted just .204 against him. He also posted a 1.01 WHIP.

The big focus of his offseason and spring training was adding a changeup, particularly as a weapon against right-handed hitters. He’s broken it out sparingly since being called up largely because he’s been called upon primarily to face left-handed hitters.

Lovelady said he still throws his changeup regularly playing catch and whenever he gets on the mound in a side session or when warming up.

“It’s just all about continuing to have repetition with it and continuing to throw it,” Lovelady said. “The more you throw it, the more you’re going to get a feel for it. The more you get a feel for it, the more confidence you’re going to get with it. And you’re going to take that confidence into the game. So it’s just continuing to throw it.

“Obviously it’s there, you’ve just gotta give it some love.”

So far this season, Lovelady has allowed four runs on seven hits and four walks in seven innings. Three of his four runs came in one outing against the Cleveland Indians.

He has posted a 5.14 ERA and opponents have batted .280 against him. He’s had several outings where he’s worked around men on base to escape unblemished, but he continues to search for overall consistency.

As a unit, the Royals bullpen has settled after a dreadful start. The group had pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings prior to Justin Bour’s three-run home run in the ninth inning on Sunday. Since April 15, the bullpen has posted a 3.45 ERA and averaged 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

“We’re getting closer to the point where the roles are starting to get a little more defined, hopefully, and may even get defined a little more,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of his bullpen. “(Jake) Newberry has done well in his opportunities. (Scott) Barlow has done well in his opportunities. Lovelady has done OK, he’s still erratic with command a little bit. We need to get (Brad Boxberger) back on track, but he threw much better his last time.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.