Prospect Romano set for camp competition

Right-hander ready to battle for rotation spot, but keeping an open mind about bullpen

Prospect Romano set for camp competition

CINCINNATI -- When he's at his Spring Training house later this month in Arizona, Reds pitching prospect Sal Romano might have to occasionally battle with three roommates. It could be for the last swig of juice in the refrigerator or for access to the washing machine. But those mundane issues will pale in comparison to the higher stakes in play at the ballpark with those same three roommates.

Romano and fellow pitching prospects Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed are sharing a house during camp. All four are also going to be battling for open spots in the big league rotation.

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"We are really good friends, but when it comes to between the lines, it's all business," Romano said. "I think the fact that we will compete with each other, that will help. All of us, hopefully, have a good shot at making this team."

A 23-year-old right-hander who looks bigger than his listed 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Romano is one of many young power pitchers Cincinnati has groomed the past few years. The Reds made him a 23rd-round pick in the 2011 Draft out of high school in Southington, Conn.

In his 27 starts last season for Double-A Pensacola, Romano went 6-11 with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP over 156 innings. But the numbers that stood out came in the second half. In his final 11 starts beginning with July 12, Romano went 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA while opponents batted .198.

Romano took some pressure off himself, and he found that it helped.

"I changed a couple of things, kind of stupid things," Romano said. "It was my attitude on the day I was pitching. I used to be such a serious guy, come in and not want to talk. I really changed my mental approach. I came in and relaxed. That's the type of personality I have. I'm a funny guy. I like to hang out with the guys, mess around, play a little ping pong. It made me more relaxed for the game. I go out, warm up and pitch. It really helped me have a really good second half."

Romano led Pensacola in starts, innings and with 144 strikeouts, compared to 34 walks. He averaged 11.31 baserunners per nine innings and 8.31 strikeouts per nine innings.

"We saw a kid pitching deeper into games," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "You're only as good of a team as the depth your starting pitcher provides -- as far as innings, reliability and health. One thing he's done for sure is stay healthy. The other two is he's collected the innings, and he's started to learn how to pitch deeper in games. That's what keeps him in the discussion as a starting pitcher. Worst-case scenario is he becomes a valuable bullpen piece at the back end of the bullpen. I think you have to pitch your way off of that starter's role, and he hasn't done that."

Romano has no bullpen experience in the Minors, but he has an open mind and no issue over debuting in the Majors as a reliever, if it came to that.

"I'm going to go in and do whatever I have to do to make this team," Romano said. "It's right there for the taking -- for me, Amir, Cody and Rob -- guys that are on the cusp of really making a name for themselves in the big leagues. It's going to be a fun competition."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.