Seth Romero was suspended twice while pitching at the University of Houston, and he was eventually dismissed from the team. Washington’s Nationals selected the left-hander in the first round of the 2017 Draft, and he made seven starts in the system later that season, but he was then sent home from Spring Training in 2018 for violating club policy.
“We don’t discuss family politics or family issues, but he’s part of this family,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters, as quoted by ESPN’s Eddie Matz in March of 2018. “Actions beget consequences. No player is bigger than the organization.”
“Hopefully when he gets back here he’ll be better for it.”
Unfortunately for Romero, after seven starts for Low-A Hagerstown in the Nationals’ system — 3.91 ERA, 3.75 FIP, eight walks (2.84 BB/9), and 34 Ks (12.08 K/9) in 25 1⁄3 innings pitched — the southpaw injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery which cost him an important year of development at a crucial time in his career.
The first time he threw again after rehabbing from the procedure, things didn’t go too well.
“I’m pretty positive that all my first five throws went straight into the ground,” Romero joked with reporters after he was called up to make his MLB debut this past summer, when a few of the left-handed relievers in the big league bullpen were injured.
His reaction to those five spiked throws out of the gate?
“Yips. Thought I had the yips already.”
Romero was included in the 60-Man Player Pool the Nationals assembled for this 60-game COVID campaign, and after having not pitched above Low-A in the club’s system, he got a shot to pitch in the majors, making his MLB debut in Citi Field in mid-August.
It was a bumpy road, but the left-hander said he never doubted the day would come that he would get to pitch in the majors, though the circumstances in the 2020 campaign provided an opportunity earlier than expected.
“I mean, I didn’t ever think that the day wouldn’t come, but I definitely knew I was putting myself in a tough position, so I kind of just tried to put all of that behind me, and do what they would tell me to do and keep working,” he said of the on- and off-field issues which have slowed his development.
“When he throws strikes, he has swing and miss stuff,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said after Romero gave up three hits, three walks, and four earned runs (on a grand slam in a shaky debut), while striking out four batters in 1 2⁄3 IP in his initial big league outing.
“His stuff plays. I like it. He threw one bad changeup ... other than that, I thought he threw the ball really well. Nervous, he was really nervous. His heartbeat was going a 1,000 miles an hour, but he’s going to be okay.”
Romero had been throwing at the Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia before he got the call, and the Nationals were watching him closely as the MLB season played out.
“We watched him progress, we watched him down in Fredericksburg, and he was guy that was throwing strikes. That’s important here,” Martinez said.
“He was throwing a lot of strikes, he’s always in the strike zone. We feel like he’s got — like I said — he’s got a lot of swing and miss stuff. And we need a left-handed pitcher. Right now he’s the only lefty we got with [Sean Doolittle] going down, so we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to get him up here and see what he can do.”
They didn’t get much of a look, because Romero, according to his manager, fell, away from the field, and suffered a broken right hand which ended his season after just three trips out to the mound.
“Seth the other day, slipped on the steps and — not to put his pitching hand down to brace himself — he decided to just put his right hand down and came in the next day with his hand completely swollen. He didn’t think much of it, but it was broken. We decided to just put him on the IL,” Martinez explained.
“I feel bad for the kid because he worked diligently to get here,” the skipper added, “... and he’s still young. Like I said, he’s a big part of our future. He had the Tommy John and he worked really hard to get back and he was doing well. Hopefully this is just a minor setback for him and as soon as he heals we’ll get him back here.”
Romero didn’t return to the Nats in 2020, but he’s been getting work in their Instructional League in West Palm Beach this month. Will he return to the normal progression the club probably had planned for him before this season threw everything off? Will he return to a starting role this season?
Rizzo said in August that he still saw Romero as a starter even though they had a need for a lefty in the bullpen this year.
“He’s a starting pitcher in our mind. He’ll be a starting pitcher. Just at this particular juncture of a season, we felt it was a good way to get his feet wet,” the GM explained.