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Romano looks to build on strong finish in 2018

Right-hander pitched well as rookie and is competing for spot in rotation
Special to MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Only three pitchers made more starts for the Reds than Sal Romano did as a rookie in 2017, and only one of them -- Homer Bailey -- is still with the team. The Reds' rotation will have a new look in 2018, but Romano hopes he can be a familiar face and return to the form he ended last season with.

After rejoining the Reds in late July, Romano pitched 79 innings, which led the club in the second half of the season. He and Bailey each started a club-high 14 games after the All-Star break, with Romano going 4-7 with a 4.44 ERA.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Only three pitchers made more starts for the Reds than Sal Romano did as a rookie in 2017, and only one of them -- Homer Bailey -- is still with the team. The Reds' rotation will have a new look in 2018, but Romano hopes he can be a familiar face and return to the form he ended last season with.

After rejoining the Reds in late July, Romano pitched 79 innings, which led the club in the second half of the season. He and Bailey each started a club-high 14 games after the All-Star break, with Romano going 4-7 with a 4.44 ERA.

It was how Romano, 24, ended the season that caught the Reds' attention, though. He registered four quality starts and a 3.17 ERA over his last eight outings.

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"It was huge," Romano said. "Getting the experience and having the lows and the highs up there. Finishing strong was really important to me, going into the offseason, knowing I'd proved to myself, and hopefully to the Reds, that I can pitch up there and be successful."

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Romano's first big league start did not go as well. He allowed three runs on three hits -- two home runs -- and four walks over three innings in a loss to the Brewers on April 16.

"I was really excited, overthrew a little bit," Romano recalled.

His next outing for Cincinnati was different. Romano allowed two runs on six hits over five innings against the D-backs on July 6, notching his first big league win. After one more start for Louisville, Romano returned to the Majors for the rest of the season. His first six starts after returning to the bigs were shaky -- 1-4 with a 6.46 ERA -- before he settled in as one of the Reds' most consistent starters.

"This was going to be [my chance] to go there and stay and not have to look over your shoulder and go, 'Am I going to be sent down tomorrow if I have a bad game?'" Romano said. "I was able to really take those bad games and learn from them, take them into my [bullpen sessions] and figure out what I need to do to get better."

Was his performance enough to secure him a spot in the Reds' 2018 rotation?

"I know what happened to me, what I learned last year and what helped me be a successful pitcher, and I know I can take that into this year," Romano said. "I'm going to give my best, go out there and compete and show that I am the guy for the job. Whatever happens after that is out of my control, but hopefully it's in my favor."

Video: NYM@CIN: Romano strikes out five across six innings

When the Reds take the field against the Indians for Friday's Cactus League opener at 3:05 p.m. ET, Romano will be proudly wearing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps as Major League Baseball honors the students and staff members whose lives were lost in the tragic Valentine's Day shooting.

There's something familiar about the experience for Romano, who grew up in Connecticut and graduated from high school not far from Sandy Hook Elementary School. He and his family spent time in the community after the shooting in 2012, and he remains inspired by the spirit that emerged in the aftermath.

"Everyone came together," Romano said. "It's really nice to see the way the community comes together in a crisis, but it's really unfortunate that those things can happen. Being able to represent that high school and wearing those hats on Friday, it'll really mean a lot to that community."

Romano praised the Stoneman Douglas students for speaking out in the wake of the tragedy and trying to create positive change.

"They care," Romano said. "They care about their future. And I'm sure they care about their kids' kids. Hopefully these kids can make a difference. There definitely needs to be some type of change to make sure kids and parents feel like they're safe when they go to school."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com.

Cincinnati Reds, Sal Romano