Today, Enny Romero will take the ball for the Durham Bulls at 12:05 PM for his Triple-A debut. Nine hours later, Chris Archer is set to start for the Tampa Bay Rays against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The fact that the two are starting on the same day is entirely coincidental. If you want to force a comparison, both have power fastballs in the mid-90’s, but Romero is a lefty while Archer is a righty and Romero doesn’t have a breaking ball like Archer’s slider. Romero has always tried to follow in the footsteps of a current Rays starter, but that Rays starter is Matt Moore. However, even if any comparison between Romero and Archer is sketchy at best, Romero finds himself in almost the same exact situation that Archer was in just two years ago and hopes to find the same end result. Today is just one game and Romero will throw many more no matter what happens. But as Archer showed, today is the day that could change everything.
2011 was Chris Archer’s first season in the Rays organization after being acquired in the Matt Garza deal, and it did not go well. In 25 starts and 134.1 innings pitched for Double-A Montgomery, Archer went just 8-7 with a 4.42 ERA, managing just a 7.9 K/9, a 5.2 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9. The 22 year old had the stuff to dominate, but he hadn’t shown any signs of figuring out where his pitches were going. It was a disappointing season and Rays fans had to wonder why the Rays traded one of the best starting pitchers their team had ever seen for him. But something strange happened at the end of the season: despite his struggles, the Rays decided to promote Archer to Triple-A Durham to finish the season. Why would they do that? They were trying to raise Archer’s confidence knowing that they could make all the difference in his development. They hoped that he could finish the season with a bang and enter 2012 not demoralized about how the previous season went but excited to build on something. That is exactly what happened. Archer was dominant in his two starts for the Bulls, going 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA and a 12-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 13 innings pitched. In the second start, he tossed 7 shutout innings, striking out 6 while walking 1. Suddenly Archer’s inconsistency faded away and his dominance came to forefront. Seemingly out of nowhere, Archer went from a severe question mark to a pitcher to get excited about. Uncoincidentally, Archer broke into the major leagues the following June and is now one of the Rays’ best stating pitchers. Can Enny Romero do the same thing?
This season for the Montgomery Biscuits, Romero’s ERA was much better than Archer at 2.76, but he managed just a 7.1 K/9, a 4.7 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9, putting up a 1.51-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio nearly identical to Archer’s 1.48-to-1. Romero has an overbearing fastball, but his curveball has been up-and-down and, like Archer, he has never really trusted his changeup even though it shows promise. Romero shows flashes of being an ace-type pitcher, but the Rays have kept waiting for him to click and it never has. Romero, like Archer in 2011, is 22 years old and isn’t so young anymore. If he doesn’t get it together quickly, he will head to the bullpen–and with his command issues, we can’t even be sure he will succeed there. But it’s this game in an hour and a half that could be moment that changes everything. Romero could go out there, have a great start, and realize that the potential for greatness is right there if he works hard enough to reach it. One good start could send Romero into Winter Ball attacking hitters like he never has before, doing everything he can to recreate the feeling of that one great Triple-A start–something he knows pales in comparison to the major leagues. Even if Romero’s succeeds, it could very well be with the same approach that he used at Double-A. But maybe it will seep in that if he really wants to achieve sustained success, he will have to do everything in his power to make his curveball break sharper and make his changeup a pitch he can rely on. Confidence means nothing by itself, but it could make the difference between action and inaction, and the Rays hope that is the case here. Today could be a turning point for Enny Romero. The question is which way. Will it be the flash of dominance that changes everything or a cataclysmic failure that makes Romero wonder where he goes from here?