After three strong years in the Minor Leagues, JoJo Romero encountered his first true hurdle this season. But the southpaw said he's embracing the struggle and the process, knowing he'll eventually get back on track. Finding "a spark" in his delivery on Friday, he produced positive results.
The seventh-ranked Phillies prospect tossed a season-high seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out eight, as Double-A Reading topped Harrisburg, 3-1, at FNB Field.
Video: Romero's eighth K for Reading
Matched up with catcher Austin Bossart, Romero said the two were in sync from the outset and developed a game plan that effectively deployed all five pitches. The batterymate, with whom he worked last year with the Fightin Phils, again had good chemistry. With the two working well, Romero said he felt zoned in and that the results finally matched up with the work he's been putting in each day.
"Me and my catcher, Austin Bossart, we had a really good connection and that's how it's been dating back to last year. We feed off one another," Romero said. "He knows what I like to do and we talk in between innings. It's a real good feeling when I'm on the mound and when he's behind the plate calling the game. That's all great, and for the most part everything was working.
"Today something really sparked something in my tempo and I got everything back on track to where it was pitch location, effectiveness of a pitch, putting someone away late in the count, getting a ground ball when I wanted -- that sort of thing."
A year ago, the left-hander got his first crack at the Eastern League and put up a 3.80 ERA and 1.29 WHIP with 100 strikeouts over 106 2/3 innings. Romero was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to start this season but pitched to a 9.64 ERA.
Gameday box score
On May 18, the 22-year-old was sent back to Reading and went 0-3 with a 7.84 ERA through his first four outings. However, Romero (2-3) found a way to right the ship against the Senators and threw 53 of 75 strikes while facing four batters over the minimum. The quality start dropped his Eastern League ERA by nearly two runs to 5.86.
He harkened back last season, when he had a 6.80 ERA on May 14. It was getting through those times that made it so sweet when he was able to drop that mark under 4.00. Although it was just one start, Romero said it still was a positive feeling to get the job done against Harrisburg.
"I had this little bit of a bump in the road last year and I was able to take myself out of it," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's embracing it and embracing the struggle because at the end of the day, when you do have the one good start, it's not even a relief, it's just all this hard work I'm putting in, it's showing."
Harrisburg threatened early as second-ranked Nationals prospect Luis Garcia singled with one out in the first and Chuck Taylor reached on an infield hit one out later. Romero stayed cool and got Nats No. 19 prospect Tres Barrera to ground to third to avoid trouble.
Getting out of the opening inning helped him get through the rest of the night with little to no trouble, but Romero said he wasn't stressing too much with runners on in the first.
"Even that first inning, I executed with what I wanted to do and just got some unfortunate hops and they beat a couple of plays out," he said. "We attacked our game plan from pitch one, and getting ahead early was very effective. And sticking to that game plan can do wonders for a whole outing."
That mentality of getting ahead in the count stuck with him as he threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of 25 batters. The California native worked around a walk in the second and a hit in the third, but they turned out to be the Sens' last baserunners against Romero, who set down the final 13 hitters. He punctuated his night by fanning Rhett Wiseman to end the seventh and set a season high in punchouts.
Romero said he didn't even realize that he had retired that many in a row because was "lost in the process" of it all.
2019 MiLB include
"I've already seen [the Senators] three times this year out of my five starts here," he said. "I know what to expect from them, so I was just locked in on trying to attack with what I want to do, and it just so happened everything felt good and I was getting the results I wanted with every single pitch. It was a good time to see results from that."
Jakob Hernandez walked one and fanned two in the eighth and Jeff Singer worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to notch his first save of the year.
Bossart staked Romero to the lead with an RBI single in the second and rehabbing Phillies outfielder Roman Quinn provided some insurance with a run-scoring groundout in the third.