Chicago baseball report: Richard Lovelady’s swing-and-miss stuff for Cubs — and adjustments continue for White Sox’s Garrett Crochet

Other than finishing a series against the Minnesota Twins on May 1, the White Sox are facing their only American League Central foe of the month with their current four-game set against the Cleveland Guardians at Guaranteed Rate Field. The Sox entered Thursday’s series opener 2-18 against the AL Central this season (1-8 at home), their worst start since the three-division format began in 1994.

The Cubs hit the road looking to win their first series in two weeks as they continue to get healthier. Center fielder Cody Bellinger delivered a punch in his return Tuesday with a three-hit game, including a home run, while right fielder Seiya Suzuki is expected to rejoin the Cubs in Pittsburgh and could be activated off the injured list Friday or Saturday. They need his bat, averaging only 2.83 runs in their last 12 games.

Every Friday during the regular season, Tribune baseball writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead — ahead for the Cubs and White Sox. Want more? Sign up for our new newsletters.

Lefty Richard Lovelady gives Cubs bullpen swing-and-miss stuff

Chicago Cubs left-hander Richard Lovelady realized during the second half of last season that he needed to tweak his repertoire.

Lovelady, then with the Oakland Athletics, saw the slider he threw to lefties and righties start to flatten in July and August. He wasn’t getting the horizontal movement he needed to have an effective offspeed pitch. So he developed a sweeper that became a lot easier for Lovelady to “hammer it down,” but as the end of the 2023 season neared, he again had issues with a pitch flattening against lefties.

In the offseason, Lovelady continued to refine his slider and developed a splitter to help combat that, though he has found some success in five appearances with the Cubs and hasn’t needed to use it.

“The pitches I learned in the offseason, (the Cubs) have helped me make it better or even just not having one or two good ones but consistent shape,” Lovelady said recently.

Lovelady heaped praise on the Cubs and their pitching infrastructure, saying, “everything has been amazing” since he signed a minor-league deal in January. He was part of big-league camp in spring in which he learned how to unlock more within himself. A big part of that, Lovelady said, has involved finger placement on the baseball and creating more consistent shape with his pitches.

How a rare lefty splitter has helped fuel Shota Imanaga’s historic start for the Chicago Cubs

Lovelady’s addition to the bullpen since he was called up April 28 has given the Cubs more swing-and-miss stuff. He struck out 20 in 12 ⅓ innings with Triple-A Iowa before his promotion. In five appearances with the Cubs, Lovelady has tallied two walks and six strikeouts in 4⅓ innings. He has been a bit unlucky en route to the three runs and five hits allowed, owning a .417 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP).

He put himself on the Cubs’ radar in spring by showing he can miss bats.

“You always wish that everybody up here stays healthy and has a great year,” Lovelady said. “But in this game that usually doesn’t happen. You’ve got to be ready anytime they call your name.”

Adjustments continue for Garrett Crochet in 1st season as starter

Advice from other pitchers has gone a long way for Garrett Crochet, who continues navigating through his first major-league season as a starter after three years in the bullpen.

“The guys I’m surrounded by have had a ton of success, but at one time they were where I am right now,” Crochet told the Tribune on Monday in a discussion about the rotation. “I’m just picking their brains on how to get there, how to get to that point. I’ve had a lot of growth, just on the pitching side, being able to pick their brains.”

Crochet is 2-4 with a 5.31 ERA and 53 strikeouts. He’s scheduled to make his ninth start Friday against Guardians.

The left-hander had a tough stretch, allowing 17 runs in 11 2/3 innings in three starts from April 13-24. He has bounced back in his last two outings, allowing three runs in 11 innings.

He has enjoyed making adjustments along the way — with helpful words from coaches and teammates.

“At first I didn’t really understand because I kind of had one plan,” he said. “If I execute this plan, then things will go well. And then I had three starts in a row where it didn’t go well.

“I was kind of lying to myself a little bit, saying some pitches were good pitches when truly they weren’t. And talked to (starter Erick) Fedde about that a good bit.”

Dylan Cease — back in Chicago with the San Diego Padres — says last year with the White Sox ‘wasn’t enjoyable in really any way’

He recalled an April 23 start in which Fedde did a good job changing the eye level of the batters on the way to 11 strikeouts against the Minnesota Twins.

“I’ve always viewed myself as an east-west pitcher because of my sweeper, I’ve kind of got to play the east-west game,” Crochet said. “But something I feel like I had success in my last outing (against the St. Louis Cardinals), I was playing north-south and east-west.”

Crochet allowed one run on three hits with six strikeouts in that start Sunday.

“I had to give myself a little bit more credit and realize there was a dimension to my game that I had yet to discover, that I had yet to actually utilize,” Crochet said. “And that is I can locate the fastball down as well as the fastball up in the zone.

“That’s what I’ve seen so far.”

Number of the week: 30

The Cubs’ stretch of 30 consecutive scoreless innings by starting pitchers ended in the eighth inning Tuesday when the San Diego PadresJurickson Profar took Shota Imanaga deep for a two-run homer. The streak marked the second-longest in club history, trailing only the 33 shutout innings by Fergie Jenkins, Bill Hands, Milt Pappas and Juan Pizarro from Aug. 2-5, 1971.

Week ahead: Cubs

  • Friday: at Pirates, 5:40 p.m., Marquee

  • Saturday: at Pirates, 3:05 p.m., Marquee

  • Sunday: at Pirates, 12:35 p.m., Marquee

  • Monday: at Braves, 6:20 p.m., Marquee

  • Tuesday: at Braves, 6:20 p.m., Marquee

  • Wednesday: at Braves, 6:20 p.m., Marquee

  • Thursday: vs. Pirates, 6:40 p.m., Marquee

A quirky schedule has the Cubs set to finally face more National League Central teams in the upcoming week and through the month.

The Cubs opened the season with a franchise-record 32 straight games against nondivision opponents. Losing two of three to close the homestand wrapped up their season series against the Padres. The Cubs already have played four of the five NL West teams but only just faced their first division rival when they played the Milwaukee Brewers last weekend.

That changes this weekend in Pittsburgh, beginning a stretch in which the Cubs play only the Pirates and Atlanta Braves in their next 13 games. They wrap up the month with 10 games against the St. Louis Cardinals, Brewers and Cincinnati Reds. A scuffling offense that managed just one hit in Wednesday’s loss to the Padres will be challenged by the upcoming probable starters.

Pirates rookie right-hander Jared Jones, whose 10.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio leads the majors, is lined up to start Friday’s series opener while top prospect and last year’s No. 1 pick Paul Skenes is being called up to start Saturday at PNC Park. The Cubs announced Thursday that they will start right-hander Javier Assad and left-hander Justin Steele in the first two games while Sunday remains to be determined.

Week ahead: White Sox

  • Friday: vs. Guardians, 6:40 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Saturday: vs. Guardians, 6:10 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Sunday: vs. Guardians, 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Monday: vs. Nationals, 6:40 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Tuesday: vs. Nationals, 6:40 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Wednesday: vs. Nationals, 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Thursday: Off

Dominic Leone had just exited with lower back tightness. Jordan Leasure got called on in the emergency situation with a runner on first and no outs in the eighth inning of a tie game Saturday against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

Leasure threw a wild pitch but then retired the three batters he faced to keep the score even. The Sox won 6-5 in 10 innings.

“He’s calm, he has tremendous presence and the moment never gets too high or fast for him,” manager Pedro Grifol said of Leasure recently.

Leasure has been reliable out of the bullpen. The rookie has a 2.57 ERA in 15 appearances coming into Thursday. His longest outing came against the Guardians, when he pitched two scoreless innings April 9 at Progressive Field.

He has one save, which came against the team he grew up rooting for — the Tampa Bay Rays — on April 28 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Leasure grew up about 45 minutes away from the Rays’ home park and attended games with his grandfather.

“I didn’t even think about it until after the game,” Leasure told the Tribune of the save. “It was pretty cool. A lot of people were texting me after, first save coming against the Rays. I said, ‘That’s how the script writers wrote it up.’ ”

Leasure continues to take in every big-league experience.

“All the guys in the clubhouse have been really great to me,” Leasure said. “Just enjoying getting to know everyone, play with everyone, the experience of it all.”

What we’re reading this morning


“The way we cover earnings, it always is a little bit of a puzzle, and injuries change that and you’ve got to be prepared to kind of zig and zag as the season goes on.” — Cubs manager Craig Counsell on how they don’t plan to use a six-man rotation