KC Royals: This southpaw survives roster cuts…for now

(Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports) /

A KC Royals reliever survived the first roster cuts. Can he survive them all?

Between now and Opening Day, the Kings of Kauffman writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is pitcher Richard Lovelady.

Richard Lovelady made his fifth Cactus League appearance for the KC Royals Thursday and, just as he did in his four previous relief stints, pitched well. Given the final inning of the seven-frame game against Milwaukee, the lefthander walked one batter, retired two on ground balls, and struck out another to earn the save in the Royals’ 4-2 win.

Perhaps more important to Lovelady, though, was that unlike five of his teammates who played in the game—Jeison Guzman, Nick Pratto, Seuly Matias, Emmanuel Rivera and Clay Dungan—he survived the club’s first roster cuts of the spring.

The Royals trimmed 27 players in all after the contest, optioning some to Triple A Omaha and reassigning others to their minor league camp:

Lovelady making it through the initial cut-down isn’t surprising. He’s on the 40-man roster, has appeared in almost half the Royals’ 12 games, and hasn’t pitched badly at all. Working almost every third day, Lovelady has a win to go with Thursday’s save, four strikeouts against one walk, and is giving up less than a hit an inning.

Although it’s a small sample (3.2 innings), the performance resembles the success Lovelady’s enjoyed in four minor league seasons: a 10-8, 2.17 ERA record over 133 games ranging from Rookie ball to Triple A. And he’s averaged almost 10 strikeouts every nine innings.

His major league work is a much different story. In 26 games with the Royals, Lovelady is 0-3 with an ominous 7.71 ERA, and has surrendered almost two hits per inning. He pitched just once for Kansas City last year, giving up a run in one inning, and spent most of the summer at the alternate site.

What does 2021 hold for him?

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Lovelady’s KC Royals season

Lovelady will, if Baseball Reference and FanGraphs are correct, spend some time in Kansas City this year, but his work will be unremarkable. Baseball Reference predicts he’ll pitch 28 innings and go 1-2 with a 4.82 ERA. FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) projects Lovelady will pitch more and be a bit better—2-2, 4.27 in 40 innings.

What kind of 2021 campaign will Lovelady actually have for the KC Royals?

This is an important season for Lovelady, who turns 26 in July and must soon prove he can pitch as well in the majors as he has in the minors.

Unfortunately, surviving all the spring roster cuts will be difficult. Although the rule limiting clubs to 13 pitchers has been waived for the season, Lovelady is one of 16 hurlers who are certain, or have realistic chances, to make the club—starters Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic and Mike Minor, and relievers Greg Holland, Josh Staumont, Wade Davis, Jesse Hahn, Kyle Zimmer, Scott Barlow, and Jake Newberry are, at least at this point, locks. Whether he’ll start or relieve (or both), Jakob Junis will make the roster. Tyler Zuber should. Ervin Santana is a close call.

That competition makes Omaha Lovelady’s most likely first destination this season. But he’ll get to Kansas City sooner or later; when he does, he might just stick. The lefty has talent and, given some more major league innings, could finally establish himself. And although the three-batter rule has diminished the unique value of lefthanded relievers, expecting Lovelady to find his niche as a middle reliever isn’t unreasonable—he won’t win or lose very many games, but look for an improved ERA and a few holds before the season is out.

Next. Did Salvador Perez set the bar too high?. dark

This may be the year Richard Lovelady brings his minor league success to the Royals. He won’t pitch all season in Kansas City, but he’ll be improved.