You have to feel a little sorry for Andrew Bellatti. He delivered a huge game for the Tampa Bay Rays last night, tossing 3 shutout innings on his way to his second major league victory. Then, after the Rays had won 1-0, he was sent back down to Triple-A because the Rays couldn’t accommodate a player on their roster who wouldn’t be available for at least three days. The team filled his spot with lefty Enny Romero, who may also pitch once and then go back to Triple-A. Unlike Bellatti, however, there is at least a chance that Romero will stick on the Rays’ roster.
Romero was first ranked among the Rays’ top prospects after the 2010 season as a left-handed starting pitcher with electric stuff. Since then, he has made it to the major leagues but never could find himself the way that Matt Moore did in the minors. Romero still consistently hits the mid-90’s with his fastball, and he reached 99.65 MPH in his relief appearance with the Rays earlier this year. However, he continues to have issues throwing strikes, and neither his slider nor his changeup has developed as hoped.
The Rays waited for years to see if Romero could click as a starting pitcher, but they have finally appeared to convert him to relief. After starting his first five games of the season, Romero made that one relief appearance in the majors and then has taken the ball out of the bullpen in his last two games at Triple-A as well. Romero has looked sharp across 5.1 innings in those final two appearances, pitching to a 1.69 ERA in 5.1 innings while striking out 8 and walking 1.
Romero doesn’t have the fastball command to be a fastball-only reliever like Jake McGee, but his heater will be even harder in shorter stints and his decent slider will play up. Given his track record as a starting pitcher, he has a chance to be a dominant multiple-inning reliever like Wade Davis was in 2012 and Alex Torres was in 2013. If Romero is going to get there, though, he needs to prove that he can reach even the low standard for control that he needs given his stuff.
In his two major league appearances, Romero has allowed just 1 run on 2 hits in 7.2 innings, but he has walked a crazy 9 batters while striking out just 3. It is nice that he was able to pitch well despite all of the free passes, but there is no scenario where he lasts in the major leagues unless he is walking 4.5 batters or less per 9 innings. Romero followed Torres’ lead and showed a calmer delivery in spring training as he struck out 4 batters while walking none. He also has a 2.4 BB/9 in his 18.2 Triple-A innings this year. But will his bouts of wildness surface again in the majors?
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Another thing worth noting about Romero is that he is unlikely to become a lefty specialist. Since 2011, he has actually allowed a .265/.352/.368 line to same-side hitters compared to a .216/.316/.331 line versus righties. His brief Triple-A stint in 2015 marked his first time allowing a lower OPS to lefties than to righties since 2012. Maybe his small sample this year implies some sort of adjustment, but there is a decent chance that it will be all or nothing with Romero. Either he will become the late-inning reliever that his stuff says he should be or he will never be more than a long man.
At some point, Enny Romero will get into another game for the Tampa Bay Rays, and it will be interesting to see how he does. We know that his stuff is electric, but will he be throwing strikes? Will his secondary pitches be effective? Finally, will he look comfortable against left-handed batters? If Romero addresses all three of those concerns or at least the first two, it is hard to believe that the Rays will send him down. However, given his up-and-down track record, we can’t be terribly optimistic that Romero is ready for a full-time role in the major leagues.