When the Cincinnati Reds were going through “The Rebuild (TM)”, much of the success and failure of that stretch was the reliance on the farm system to produce starting pitching. Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, Brandon Finnegan, Tyler Mahle, and Sal Romano were the guys the organization was counting on to produce and get them to where they wanted to be. Things didn’t quite work out that way for the organization. It’s led to new pitching coaches and instructors and philosophies throughout the entire organization. Only Mahle remains a starting pitcher from that group. Over the weekend, Romano learned that he had made the team as a reliever.
Out of options, Sal Romano knew coming into spring training that he was competing for a job. His spring numbers on the surface don’t look great. His ERA was 6.48 in 8.1 innings. That is not a good look. But all six runs he allowed came in two games. Three came in his first outing of the spring on March 1st against Oakland. And then three more came on March 21st against Chicago. All three runs in that game against Chicago weren’t really on him, though. A ball that was lost in the sun went for a hit that directly led to three runs that wouldn’t have happened had the routine fly ball been caught. Removing those runs from his statline would have given him an ERA of 3.24 on the spring to go with 11 strikeouts in 8.1 innings.
His last outing against the Cubs went well, firing a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout. It was a good ending to spring training that had been going well for him outside of a lost fly ball in the sun in his previous outing.
“It was great,” Romano said of the outing. “Velocity wise, sharpness of my slider, the way the ball was moving – I was just able to put it all together. Kind of had a little bad luck this spring when it comes to the sun, spring training numbers – you’ve got to look through that sometimes and watch the game and understand it – those types of things happen, it’s spring training for a reason. When it comes to stuff wise, confidence, how I feel on the mound, I feel like everything is really there. Arm felt great, velocity was good, I just truly do feel like I truly put things together.”
It wasn’t really until 2019 that Sal Romano made the move into the bullpen. That happened in Triple-A Louisville, where he made 38 relief appearances (and five starts). That transition year was a bit up-and-down, inconsistent if you will. He would spendsome time in the big leagues that year, making 12 appearances out of the bullpen. His strikeout rate went up from where it had been as a starter, but he was still allowing hits and runs at a higher rate than you’d like to see.
In 2020 we didn’t get to see much of Sal Romano on the mound. Most of his time was spent at the alternate site. He made two appearances for the Reds, throwing 1.1 perfect innings.
“I really do feel like I’m not the same pitcher as I used to be,” Romano said. “Confidence wise, the way I throw, the arsenal I have – I really think things are sharp right now. I’m really looking forward to putting things on display and help this team win any way that I can.”
One of the differences in his arsenal is his slider. He noted that it’s a little bit different now than it has been in the past.
“I think mostly working on the side during my catch, and taking it serious,” said Romano about where his success in camp had come from. “I realized I had a different grip on my slider. I think it’s become a lot more sharper. I know it’s been pretty hard, but still being able to throw it for a strike, a little less velocity – kind of flip it in there. I just think attacking the strikezone, try to limit the walks, try to get as many quick outs as possible.”
In the past, the right-hander’s slider worked in the 86-89 MPH range. It will be interesting to see both the velocity that it has this season, as well as movement that it has compared to the slider he had thrown in the past. In terms of value, Fangraphs has the pitched graded out as above-average for his career in the big leagues, but it’s been hit-and-miss, with both 2017 and 2019 having the pitch below-average, while in 2018 it was above-average. In 2020, of course, the data is meaningless as he faced all of four batters in the big leagues.