After 123 appearances in the minor leagues, Sal Romano is getting his chance.
The 23-year-old Cincinnati Reds right-hander is scheduled to make his major-league debut on Sunday afternoon against the Milwaukee Brewers. It has been a relatively long road for the 23rd-round draft choice who seemed to come into his own last season at Double-A.
But it was his solid spring training and a blistering start at Triple-A Louisville that put Romano on the fast track to the big leagues.
In two starts at Triple-A, Romano allowed two earned runs through 13 innings with a walk and eight strikeouts. That equates to a 1.38 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP.
“From a maturity standpoint, a competitive standpoint, I don’t think there’s anything that’s standing in his way,” Reds manager Bryan Price said of Romano during the spring.
Romano’s stay could be brief. Right-hander Rookie Davis is expected back next week from a bruised forearm.
Price had other options to fill Sunday’s spot in the rotation, but Romano was on his normal schedule and prospective starters in the ‘pen were asked to cover eight innings on Saturday.
“There’s a reason why (Cody) Reed and (Robert) Stephenson are in the bullpen,” Price said. “We’re trying to build them into big-league starters. Our intention is for one or both of them to eventually be big-league starters.”
Romano will be the sixth Reds player this season to make his big-league debut. His fastball has been rated the best in the organization, with an 85-89 mph slider with bite.
Cincinnati (7-4) is looking to gain a split in the four-game series against Milwaukee. If they do, the Reds will begin a season with four consecutive series without a loss for the first time since 2004.
Milwaukee will counter with veteran right-hander Wily Peralta, who is coming off two solid starts to begin the season. On Tuesday in Toronto, he allowed three runs in six innings in a 4-3 Brewers win. In his season debut on April 5 against Colorado, Peralta pitched five shutout innings in a 6-1 victory.
Peralta has had some success against the Reds, posting a 3.11 ERA in 14 career starts against them with 29 earned runs allowed in 84 innings. He has made seven career starts at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park and fared well with a 2.63 ERA.
“He’s picked up where he left off last year,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s been pounding the zone. Big fastball. He was one of the harder throwers in the league a few years ago.”
Saturday’s 7-5 loss dropped the Brewers (6-6) back to .500 after moving above that mark for the first time since finishing the 2014 season with an 82-80 record.
“It’s news if it’s August,” Counsell said. “We’re in a really good stretch to start the season. Certainly, the starters have thrown well, the bullpen too. It’s a good recipe.”
One thing to watch Sunday is the condition of Cincinnati’s bullpen, especially with a rookie starting. The Reds’ bullpen covered 12 innings the previous two games, including eight on Saturday after starter Brandon Finnegan left with a shoulder strain.
“We’re rolling out a lot of young guys,” Price said after Saturday’s game. “Going eight innings (with the bullpen) doesn’t set us up very well for tomorrow.”