ST. PETERSBURG -- Right-hander Tommy Romero had been scheduled to pitch Tuesday night for Triple-A Durham, set to take the mound for the home opener at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. His plans changed for the better in a hurry on Sunday.
After Durham’s 4-3 loss in Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday, Triple-A manager Brady Williams gathered his players in the clubhouse for a team meeting. He told the club that reliever Ryan Thompson was headed back to the big leagues on Monday, and there was one more thing: Somebody else was being called up to make his Major League debut.
The clubhouse erupted with cheers for Romero, who will start for the Rays against the A’s on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.
“It's a dream come true,” Romero said Monday afternoon, in front of a locker with his No. 52 jersey inside. “It's something I've been waiting for my whole life.”
Romero, the Rays’ No. 18 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was added to the taxi squad before Monday’s game. He will be promoted to the active roster on Tuesday, temporarily filling a spot in Tampa Bay’s rotation that opened up when the Rays placed left-hander Ryan Yarbrough -- who had been scheduled to start on Tuesday -- on the 10-day injured list due to left groin tightness.
Yarbrough’s precautionary placement on the IL was made retroactive to Friday, and if all goes well, he is expected to only miss one start before rejoining the rotation on April 18.
“I think it's just a matter of giving it a couple extra days, make sure it's where it needs to be,” Yarbrough said. “Then we're right back at it."
With Romero on the taxi squad, the Rays recalled Thompson from Triple-A on Monday to fill Yarbrough’s spot on the 28-man roster. Thompson, a key part of Tampa Bay’s bullpen last season before going down with an injury that wound up requiring thoracic outlet syndrome decompression surgery, was one of the last cuts in Spring Training. Rays manager Kevin Cash said he was “pumped” for Thompson to be back after what he called a “tough conversation” in the final days of Spring Training.
“Disappointment is probably the best word. I wasn't upset. I didn't think anything of it. It was probably good for me in a lot of ways,” Thompson said. “I think anybody would be disappointed. Everybody wants to make that Opening Day roster. But it's not about Opening Day. It's about winning the World Series. … I'm in it for the long haul.”
Romero pitched well in the upper Minors last season and earned a spot on the Rays’ 40-man roster over the winter. The 24-year-old put together a 2.61 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP with 145 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings over 23 outings (21 starts) for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Leaning on a high-spin fastball that plays well at the top of the strike zone, not unlike that of former Rays prospect/current Twins starter Joe Ryan, the 6-foot-2 righty struck out one-third of the batters he faced on the year.
“He's not a guy who's really overpowering with his stuff, but he gets a lot of swing-and-misses,” said outfielder Josh Lowe, who played with Romero with Durham last season. “He was really good for us, someone who's going to attack the zone with his fastball and all his pitches and give you good quality innings every time he goes out there. He's just going to get guys out.”
Romero has made one start for Durham this season, allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out three over 3 2/3 innings against Nashville last Thursday. He was expected to play a role for the Rays’ deep pitching staff at some point this season, albeit not quite this early.
He has consistently performed in the Minor Leagues since the Mariners selected him in the 15th round of the 2017 Draft, and he’s been on the rise for the Rays since they acquired him as part of the return in a deal that sent Alex Colomé and Denard Span to Seattle on May 25, 2018. Overall, he is 37-11 with a 2.50 ERA in 410 2/3 innings over 86 appearances (68 starts) in the Minors.
After receiving the news, Romero said he immediately called his mom then his dad, who “couldn’t believe it.” He’ll have family coming in Tuesday from Connecticut, Virginia and Florida. It’ll be a different stage than Durham’s home opener, without a doubt, but he believes he’s prepared for it.
“I'm going to try to go out there and make it the same,” Romero said. “Just go out there and do my thing.”