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'Big Sally' out to prove he belongs in rotation

Romano throws second consecutive 7-inning gem Thursday vs. the Cubs
MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- All season as Reds rookie starters and prospects have come and gone from the rotation, it seemed that only Luis Castillo was a legitimate success story. Would anyone else be able to step up and prove they belong in the big leagues?

Sal Romano (aka "Big Sally" on his Players Weekend jersey) is progressing in an attempt to become one of those pitchers. For the second consecutive time on Thursday, Romano turned in a superb seven-inning start. It went for a no-decision, but the Reds emerged with a 4-2 win over the Cubs.

CINCINNATI -- All season as Reds rookie starters and prospects have come and gone from the rotation, it seemed that only Luis Castillo was a legitimate success story. Would anyone else be able to step up and prove they belong in the big leagues?

Sal Romano (aka "Big Sally" on his Players Weekend jersey) is progressing in an attempt to become one of those pitchers. For the second consecutive time on Thursday, Romano turned in a superb seven-inning start. It went for a no-decision, but the Reds emerged with a 4-2 win over the Cubs.

"You have to be consistent. That's what they're looking for going into the offseason and coming into Spring Training ready to go," Romano said. "If I can do the best I can to stay consistent throughout the rest of the year, I think I'll have a pretty good shot at being in the rotation next year."

Romano gave up two earned runs and six hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. He gave up Ian Happ's solo home run in the second inning and a two-out RBI single by Javier Baez in the sixth.

Of the 100 pitches Romano threw, 63 went for strikes. More importantly, the 23-year-old right-hander brought variety. While there were 60 four-seam fastballs that averaged 94.9 mph according to Statcast™, he worked in 29 sliders and 10 changeups.

"The last two starts now, we've really, really tried to use his changeup a lot more," Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart ("Barney") said. "We stuck with it tonight. I think we were 0-for-8 in the first eight that he threw as far as throwing strikes. But we were throwing it two times in a row, every other pitch a couple times. We've got to use it, and it's a pitch that really keeps guys off-balance, even if it's not in the strike zone."

Through the first three innings, Romano retired nine of 11 batters. He needed just nine pitches in the first inning and struck out the side in the fifth using 13 pitches.

"It's a great sign. It's a great sign to pound the strike zone with confidence," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He got to the changeup, he got to the breaking ball, but he really made some good pitches with that hard sinker and put himself in a position to throw seven innings because his pitch count and his effectiveness allowed him to do so."

During a 5-3 win over the Braves on Aug. 18, Romano gave up one earned run and five hits. It snapped a three-start losing streak and a four-game winless stretch.

"I'm working really, really hard with the coaching staff in between my starts," Romano said. "It's not just learning something the day I pitch. It's something I'm learning every single day throughout my bullpens and I throw two a week.

"My delivery feels really comfortable being able to repeat. Things feel pretty good right now but this game can be very humbling. I'll enjoy it tonight, but after that it's back to work."

Romano is 3-5 in 10 big league starts with a 4.96 ERA. His last two outings marked the first times he had pitched beyond six innings.

"It's an inning-to-inning thing, I think, even more than game-to-game. It's something that he sees himself have confidence, and it continues to kind of snowball in a good way," Barnhart said. "In Atlanta, he threw the crap out of the ball and tonight it just carried over. He's evolving as a pitcher, he's learning how to command his pitches better, which is the biggest thing for him."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.