Romo becoming key 'pen piece at right time

July 24th, 2021

SEATTLE -- With the A's clear buyers as the July 30 Trade Deadline approaches, the assumption through most of the season has been that they would be in the market for bullpen help. While the club may still target a reliever, the need for bullpen arms might not be as dire as it once was.

When the A’s signed in February, the plan was for him to slot into a late-inning role, given his vast experience and championship pedigree while pitching in such situations in the past. It didn’t work out that way at the start, with the veteran right-hander’s early-season struggles relegating him to lower-leverage spots. Over the past couple of weeks, however, Romo has led the charge for an A’s bullpen that is going through a resurgence.

Entering Friday’s game against the Mariners, the A’s bullpen had allowed just one earned run or fewer in 14 of the club’s last 15 games, posting a 1.59 ERA over that stretch. Romo’s success goes even further back. After working a perfect eighth inning with a strikeout on Thursday’s win, he entered Friday on a 10-game scoreless streak and, taken back further, unscored upon in 20 of his last 22 outings.

“We brought him in here for a reason,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Romo. “He’s got a lot of experience pitching late in games and there’s really not a moment that’s too big for him. For the most part, we’ve had three key guys that we’ve relied [on]. Now, we feel like we have at least four with him."

The emergence of Romo allows Melvin to provide more rest to other heavily taxed arms like Yusmeiro Petit, whose 287 games pitched since 2017 are most in the Majors over that time. Romo’s recent success, which includes 13 strikeouts with just two hits allowed over his last 8 2/3 innings entering Friday, can be attributed to an adjustment in his pitch distribution.

When you have a superb slider like Romo does, it can be easy to fall in love with it. Though he’s still slinging that frisbee-like slider as good as he did a decade ago, Romo became a bit too predictable with the pitch, leading to a 7.63 ERA through his first 18 appearances of the season. After going back to the drawing board to find a better way to mix in his fastball and changeup around late May, Romo is back to generating poor swings from opposing hitters on a consistent basis. That was on display in Thursday’s win, he caught Mitch Haniger with an off-balance swing on a 76.4 mph slider for strike three to begin the bottom of the eighth.

“He’s a guy I can pitch anywhere from getting a big out in the sixth to, if Lou [Trivino] is not available, potentially the ninth,” Melvin said. “He’s pitched as well as anybody on our team here in the last couple of months.”