Royals left-hander Richard Lovelady announced late last night on Instagram that he underwent Tommy John surgery this week. It’s not entirely out of the blue, as the 26-year-old southpaw was placed on the 10-day injured list due to a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in late August.
Tommy John surgery will quite likely wipe out the entirety of the 2022 season for Lovelady, as most pitchers require more than a year of rehab work. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson is one recent exception, but even he returned just four days shy of his operation’s one-year anniversary. It’s technically possible that Lovelady could be ready late next September, but precedent very strongly suggests Spring Training 2023 is a likelier target date.
Losing Lovelady for a full year’s time is a notable hit to Kansas City’s bullpen outlook next season. Long rated as one of the organization’s most promising relief prospects, Lovelady has dominated in the minors and, in 2021, had begun to carry that success over to the big leagues. While Lovelady struggled in 21 MLB frames from 2019-20, he pitched to a 3.48 ERA with strong strikeout (27.1), walk (7.1) and ground-ball (56.6) percentages in 20 2/3 innings this year. Combine that success with a career 2.12 ERA in the minor leagues, including a 2.51 mark in 107 1/3 Triple-A frames, and it’s easy to see why the organization is increasingly bullish on the lefty’s future.
The recent injury surely doesn’t change the Royals’ view that Lovelady can be a big part of their pitching staff down the road, but the wait for him to cement himself as such will now be further prolonged. That said, the Royals still control Lovelady all the way through the 2026 season, so even if he’s not back on a big league mound until 2023, they could still enjoy four full seasons of the talented lefty before he’s eligible to test the free-agent market. He’ll accrue a year of service time and big league pay next year on the 60-day injured list due to the fact that the injury occurred while he was pitching on the big league roster.
Looking ahead to the 2022 campaign, the Royals will lean heavily on the late-inning duo of Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont to close things down, while lefty Jake Brentz and righty Domingo Tapia have quite likely punched their tickets for a spot on the big league staff as well. Bullpen help, however, already figured to be a priority for the Kansas City front office this winter. Losing one of the team’s more promising arms for the majority or entirety of next season only makes that an even likelier area of focus for newly promoted president of baseball operations Dayton Moore, general manager J.J. Piccolo and the rest of the Royals’ baseball ops department.