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Romano states case to make Reds' rotation

Right-hander notches 7 K's in strong start against Mariners
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds right-hander Sal Romano is making a strong case in the battle for the fifth spot in the club's rotation. In a 5-2 loss to the Mariners on Saturday, Romano delivered his finest start of the spring.

Over four scoreless innings, Romano allowed one hit and one walk to go with seven strikeouts.

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds right-hander Sal Romano is making a strong case in the battle for the fifth spot in the club's rotation. In a 5-2 loss to the Mariners on Saturday, Romano delivered his finest start of the spring.

Over four scoreless innings, Romano allowed one hit and one walk to go with seven strikeouts.

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"It's a good day," Romano said. "I was able to mix up a three-pitch mix like I've been working on. The changeup wasn't there early, but towards the end, I just kept throwing it and throwing it. It came around."

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In the top of the second inning, lefty-hitting Mike Ford rolled a hit into left field against the shift for a double. Romano followed by giving up a walk to Guillermo Heredia, but he escaped when Heredia was caught stealing as Mike Marjama struck out. Gordon Beckham was called out on strikes to end the inning.

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All of Romano's outs came via strikeouts or ground balls.

"I was working down," he said. "[Devin Mesoraco] worked really hard back there [behind the plate]. I was getting in on the righties and on the lefties, too. My breaking ball was pretty good today and I was able to put guys away with it."

Through four spring starts, Romano has a 3.00 ERA. He is competing against several pitchers for a rotation spot -- including Robert Stephenson, Tyler Mahle, Michael Lorenzen and Amir Garrett.

Video: SEA@CIN: Romano on his seven-strikeout performance

"Everybody has got a little bit of wiggle room anyway. It's hard to come down here and pitch perfect. But he has been aggressive," manager Bryan Price said of Romano. "He comes in and challenges hitters in the strike zone. He works ahead. He has a really good approach, getting right after hitters by competing in the strike zone early and making two-strike quality pitches to finish them off."

Romano declined to say if he felt he earned a place in the big leagues with his performances. Last spring, he was one of the final cuts following a good spring.

"That's not my call," Romano said. "I came in here with one goal and that's to go in the office on the last day, this time, and [them] telling me I'm going to Cincinnati. I'm just going to keep pitching and let it all play out the way it needs to."

Hamilton still hitless
Although he has walked five times and scored three runs this spring, Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton is 0-for-18 in his nine games. Price has mentioned multiple times that Hamilton received a lot of outside input and advice, and he needs to simplify his approach.

"I think he just needs to hit with a clear head," Price said.

Hamilton, who has a career on-base percentage of .298, was the Reds' leadoff hitter last season. But Price has not locked Hamilton in for that spot in 2018.

"This whole spring, I knew coming in that that decision would be made late in camp on where he's best suited to help us," Price said. "I've got to make a decision about what's going to be the most productive for the club.

"He could be hitting in a few different places considering we're going to be rotating outfielders over the course of the season."

Mahle continues to impress
During Friday's win against the Rangers, Mahle bounced back from a poor outing. Mahle pitched three innings with one earned run, one hit, no walks and two strikeouts.

Over his first two innings, Mahle retired all six batters and demonstrated crisp command of his four-seam fastball throughout the game.

"There's a deceptiveness in how late hitters are able to see it, find the release point and recognize spin and speed," Price said. "That makes a big difference, his ability to throttle speeds on the fastball with similar command. It's a really important part of pitching. I hate to call it a lost art, but you don't see as many pitchers that deviate from their maximum fastball by 10 mph.

"You're seeing an 87 up there, there might be a 97 that follows the 87. That's feel and that's intent and understanding what he wants to have happen."

Up next
When the Reds play the Mariners again on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET in Peoria, Ariz., Brandon Finnegan will get the ball for his second Cactus League start. Watch it live on MLB.TV and MLB Network as rotation contender Michael Lorenzen is also scheduled to pitch.

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.

Cincinnati Reds, Brandon Finnegan, Billy Hamilton, Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano