By BRIAN JENNINGS
Close to 50 friends and family members made the trip to Great American Ballpark on Easter Sunday to watch former Blue Knight pitcher Sal Romano make his major league debut for the Cincinnati Reds.
The 23-year-old right-hander went three innings with a pair of strikeouts, allowing four walks, three hits, and a pair of earned runs. He finished the game with 82 pitches and 39 strikes.
“When you’re making your major league debut, obviously you’re pumped up with a little energy,” Romano said in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It was nice to get that first strikeout, throw that first pitch, and be out there on that mound for the first time. It was very overwhelming and a dream come true.”
Romano came out throwing gas in the first inning, throwing as hard as 98 miles-per-hour in the first inning. He struck out the very first batter he faced in the game, Nick Franklin, on a 97 mile-per-hour fastball, allowed the next two runners to get on base with walks, and then got two batters to fly out to the outfield.
Other than a double to deep left and a hit batter, no damage was done in the second inning either. But in the third, he gave up back-to-back home runs to Ryan Braun and Travis Shaw and was pulled at the end of the frame in 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at home.
“Obviously, it wasn’t the ultimate result or what I wanted, but it’s my first one and is out of the way now,” Romano said during the Enquirer interview. “Hopefully, I can learn from my mistakes today and make those adjustments in my next start.”
Although Romano experienced a rough outing in his first major league appearance, Blue Knight baseball coach Charlie Lembo said that he feels Romano is going to be with the Reds, or at least in the MLB, for a long time.
“He had a great spring training and led the team in almost every category,” said Lembo. “He’s got the first step out of the way with his major league debut, but now he just needs to do all the things that got him there. I just hope that he’s going to enjoy it and be successful at it.”
The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder was called up to the Reds’ starting rotation in the absence of pitcher Rookie Davis, who had suffered a forearm injury. According to the Cincinnati Reds’ official website, Romano entered the 2017 season rated as the eighth-best prospect in the organization by Baseball America.
Prior to the 2016 season, his fastball was rated the best in the organization.
As the ace of the Southington baseball team and Observer Male Athlete of the Year in 2011, Romano finished his high school career with a 17-5 record and 1.1 ERA. Under the white cap with a blue “S” and blue brim, he threw 172 strikeouts, allowed 33 walks, and posted seven complete games, tossing one no-hitter in his senior campaign.
His batting was just as lethal. With a career batting average of .331 and a slugging percentage of .507 in 148 at-bats, Romano produced 49 hits, 28 runs, 14 doubles, 17 walks, and four home runs.
He was the Connecticut Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year and Connecticut High School Coaches Association/Bass Pro Baseball Player of the Year in 2011.
After dealing strikes throughout his high school career, Romano was dealt with the dilemma of taking the mound for the Volunteers at the University of Tennessee or taking a chance with a professional ball club. He took the western route.
Romano was taken by the Reds in the 23rd round of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft and signed with the organization, making his professional debut with the Billings Mustangs in 2012. He spent 2013 and 2014 with the Dayton Dragons and 2015 with the Daytona Tortugas and Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
Following the 2015 season, the Reds added him to their 40-man roster. Romano began the 2017 season playing for the Triple-A Louisville Bats, recording two starts, 13 innings pitched, and an ERA of 1.38.
Romano’s current MLB stint was a short one. The Reds announced on Tuesday that the former Knight was optioned to Triple-A Louisville. Right-handed pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla was recalled from Louisville to replace him.