(TNS) — Richard Lovelady’s big-league dreams became reality via a prank call from his minor-league manager and a tearful hug by an airport baggage claim.
The Royals attempted to bolster their struggling relief pitching staff prior to Tuesday night’s game against Seattle by recalling right-hander Heath Fillmyer and purchasing the contract of the hard-throwing left-hander Lovelady.
In corresponding moves, the Royals optioned relievers Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill to Triple-A Omaha.
“I’m thinking I’m still asleep, and I’m going to wake up and be in Omaha, I guess,” Lovelady said in the home clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium. “This is everything I’ve ever dreamed of, everything I’ve ever imagined it to be, so I’m excited.”
Lovelady received the news of his first promotion to the majors from Omaha manager Brian Poldberg right after getting off a plane from Chicago. He’d started to head to the parking lot when Poldberg called him and told him to return to baggage claim because he’d left something behind.
A confused Lovelady came back to the baggage claim sure he hadn’t left anything, and Poldberg delivered the message that he’d been called up to the big leagues.
“I didn’t know what to say, it was a loss of words,” Lovelady said. “I started crying, and I gave him a big hug.”
A 6-foot tall, 175-pound left-hander from Georgia, Lovelady has shown flashes of dominance out of the bullpen since the Royals drafted him in the 10th round in 2016. He has served strictly in a relief role, posting a 1.99 ERA across 167 1/3 minor-league innings. The lefty spent all of 2018 with Omaha and had a 2.47 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 73 innings. He has thrown 2 2/3 scoreless innings this year.
Lovelady moved to Triple-A by the start of his third professional season. Last year in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, he converted nine of 12 save opportunities, struck out 71 and walked 21 in 73 innings (46 games). Opponents batted just .204 against him, and he posted a 1.01 WHIP.
He went to big-league camp this spring as a non-roster invitee, and he was sent back to minor-league camp on March 29. Lovelady struck out 11 and allowed two runs on 10 hits and three walks in seven appearances (8 2/3 innings) in major-league spring training games in Arizona.
“He’s a guy that has really progressed through our system really, really quickly,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “(He has) the ability to throw strikes. He’s got great stuff. All of our people really like what he’s capable of doing as a young guy.”
The Royals’ bullpen has compiled an 8.89 earned-run average in nine games, worst in the American League after compiling the worst mark in the league in 2018, as well.
In his fourth season with the Royals, McCarthy has allowed eight runs and 14 baserunners in fewer than four innings, an ERA of 19.64. Hill has allowed six baserunners in two innings of work.
“We need them to be productive,” Yost said. “They were a big part of our staff last year, a big part, both of them — guys that I counted on to be consistent. They were just off a little bit right now, both of them.”
Yost declined to announce his starter for Wednesday, but Fillmyer figures a likely candidate to step into the fifth spot in the starting rotation. The Royals went with just four starters through the first two weeks of the season because of extra off days that allowed them to remain on regular rest.
With a stretch of 19 consecutive games without an off day having started on Saturday, they’ll move to a five-man rotation. Left-handed veteran starter Danny Duffy has remained on the injured since the start of the regular season after a shoulder ailment forced the Royals to shut down his throwing progression in camp.
Yost said on Monday that Duffy was scheduled to throw three innings/50 pitches in a minor-league game in extended spring training on Tuesday.
Fillmyer, who went 4-2 in 17 games (13 starts) for the Royals last season, remained on the major-league roster as a starting pitching option until two days before the club broke camp in Arizona.
His last outing came for Triple-A Omaha on Thursday. He allowed six earned runs on seven hits and four walks in four innings.
“I think they kind of made it known what they were thinking, what they believed and how they were going to use me,” Fillmyer said of not making the team out of spring training. “From that point on, I just had to go down and get my work down no matter where I am. I just try to make the best of where I am. Thankfully, I’m here now with an opportunity.”