MIAMI -- In the first inning against the Marlins on Friday, Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart had as many mound visits -- three -- as pitcher Sal Romano had issued free passes. Romano walked the bases loaded with one out in the first but got out of the mess by striking out the side.
Barnhart normally wears bright-colored tape on his fingernails so pitchers can see his signs better. This time, he didn't, and Romano couldn't see what his catcher was putting down.
"I had to go to the last resort of painting my whole finger white," Barnhart said. "It didn't seem to be a problem after I got that done."
Even with the issue corrected, Romano still had trouble throwing strikes. He issued six walks over 3 2/3 innings in a no-decision lost by the Reds, 7-4, at Marlins Park.
Known for throwing strikes in the Minors, Romano has 17 walks compared to 23 strikeouts over five big league starts and 21 2/3 innings. During Thursday's loss, another rookie -- Robert Stephenson -- walked seven batters over 4 1/3 innings. It's part of the pangs and sputters of a young rotation with three rookies.
"We've got to get these guys thinking good things can happen when they throw the ball over," Reds manager Bryan Price said.
Romano threw 78 pitches (41 strikes) in his short outing, and he allowed two unearned runs on two hits. Only one walk scored on him, but it was his own poor fielding that caused damage. On a one-out comebacker with the bases loaded in the fourth inning, Romano overthrew to Barnhart at the plate for an error that foiled an inning-ending double play. After that run scored, Dee Gordon added a sacrifice fly.
For the error, not seeing the signs and the lack of strikes, Romano took all of the responsibility.
"You can't defend walks," Romano said. "I just couldn't see very well, and that was my fault. I should have brought him out there a little bit sooner and told them to go to the body signs. I was having a little bit of trouble, but we were able to get out of it that first inning."
When he faced the Marlins in his previous start on Sunday in Cincinnati, Romano was far different. He gave up one run on three hits over six innings with one walk and seven strikeouts in a 6-3 win. In that outing, he was praised for his willingness to work on a still-developing third pitch -- the changeup -- that he threw eight times effectively.
On Friday, there was just one changeup from Romano.
"I was just falling behind every single hitter and trying to get that ground ball and use my sinker," Romano said. "I've got to go to my best pitch, and that's my sinker. I just felt like I kept missing down, down, down."
But the changeup is exactly the kind of pitch that could help Romano get hitters off of his sinker, especially when it's not on point. At 23, it's still something he isn't fully comfortable utilizing. Price said he would be throwing the changeup more often before this season ends.
"You feel like -- in a way -- you're forfeiting a ballgame because you're trying to develop a guy to do something that is unique to him at this level of play," Price said. "These are things that have to be done. All of these guys have to continue to take the challenge of improving at this level. If it's learning a new pitch, if it's throwing a pitch they haven't thrown much, unfortunately, it's on us to do it here."