SOUTHINGTON — In the midst of his second Major League campaign, former Southington High baseball star and current Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Sal Romano is finding his groove.
Some folks from his hometown got a first-hand look at his progress this week, when the 24-year-old tossed an absolute gem on Tuesday night against the New York Mets at Citi Field to earn his seventh win of the season.
“There were probably about 200 people there,” Romano said of friends and family who attended the game. “It always extra special and I love to get that extra thing inside you where you want to be successful and put on a show for them and pitch really well.
“To have all of them there and see all the support that I have back home, it’s pretty special.”
Romano, who was drafted out of high school in the 23rd round by the Reds in 2011, did just that. The right-hander tossed six innings of two-hit, one-run baseball while striking out five to lead Cincinnati to a 6-1 victory.
“I grew up a Yankee fan, but I liked the Mets as well,” said Romano, who is originally from Long Island. “I went to Shea Stadium a lot. The Yankees-Mets Subway Series: I loved going to those games. My dad took me all the time. It’s got a little extra meaning to it whenever you play against a New York team.”
A one-hour and 40-minute rain delay pushed back the start of Romano’s homecoming game. That didn’t stop him from turning in one of his best performances of the season.
“I stayed inside and stayed loose,” Romano said of what he did during the delay. “There was no way that I was not going out there to pitch. I think the coaches knew that, too. I kept myself ready, warmed up again and I was able to pitch into the seventh inning.”
Romano ventured into the seventh, then was pulled after walking Todd Frazier and Brandon Nimmo to open the frame. Regardless, given the delay, even getting to the seventh was an impressive feat.
“I’m sure they put a pitch count on me,” Romano said. “I figured they were going to let me throw 80-85 pitches and I ended up doing that.”
The exact total ended up being 84 for the young right-hander, who threw 54 strikes to 30 balls. He also threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 24 batters he faced, something Romano believed was one of the keys to his success.
“Working my fastball on both sides of the plate [was also important],” Romano said. “Working inside, which opened the outside corner, and then using both my curveball and my change-up to keep mixing speeds and to keep them off balance as much as possible.”
Tuesday marked the third time in four starts that Romano turned in a quality start. Since June, he has compiled a 4-3 record to go with just a 3.92 earned run average.
“I’ve been working hard in my bullpens,” Romano said. “The biggest part in pitching the big leagues is you’ve got to be able to get guys out in the strike zone. They’re not going to chase stuff all the time. They go up there with an approach, so you’ve got to be able to make quality pitches inside the strike zone.
“Pitching both out of the bullpen and starting, I’ve been pretty successful doing that lately.”
Romano came out of the bullpen on two different occasions in the past month. He tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 15 and picked up his first career hold against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 28.
“It’s kind of different,” Romano said of coming out of the pen. “You don’t get to do the routine that I’ve done for such a long time [as a starter]. Once your name’s called, you’ve just got to get yourself ready.”
Coming on in relief requires a whole different mindset for Romano. But, at the end of the day, it still comes down to execution and hitting spots.
“You come in and you want to attack,” he said. “Hopefully, the starter has established the inside corner and you want to make sure you’re able to come in there and throw strikes and get guys out as much as you can.
“It’s definitely a different mentality. Obviously, my heart is in starting so, hopefully, I can continue to do that.”
After going 5-8 with a 4.45 ERA in 16 starts with the Reds last season, Year 2 has had its challenges for Romano. He struggled in the month of May, going 2-3 with a 7.45 ERA.
However, as his past 2½ months have shown, Romano has continued to make positive adjustments pitching Major League Baseball.
He has dropped his walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) from 1.47 to 1.39 from his first to second season, and he has improved in other areas, including ERA, WHIP, strikeout to walk ratio and batting average against, in every month since May.
And while his strikeouts per nine are down this season, Romano has been much more efficient since the All-Star break, improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio from 1.8 to 3.25.
“You get away with a lot of stuff in the minor leagues where guys are chasing a lot or don’t come up there with an approach,” Romano said. “[Major League hitters] have a plan up there and that’s what they are paid to do. They’re paid to hit, so to be able to make quality pitches inside the strike zone is the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make.”
Romano has allowed just a .239 batting average against in four second-half appearances. That number has steadily decreased since May, where opponents hit .298.
With the Reds currently sitting at 50-65 and are in last place in the NL Central, developing a promising young pitcher like Romano would benefit them for future playoff contention.
As for the Southington native, the next month and a half will be key if he wants to reach one of his personal goals. “I’d like to get to double-digit wins,” said Romano, who currently sits at 7-9 on the season. “That would be nice. I’d definitely like to do that.”
Romano’s next scheduled start is Tuesday against Cleveland, and the plan going forward is very clear.
“I just want to keep getting better every day,” Romano said. “I’m up here learning still. You know, it’s been a real rollercoaster year of pitching well, pitching bad, pitching well, pitching bad. So, hopefully, just staying consistent the rest of the year and, hopefully, get to those double-digit wins and go from there.”