ASU baseball's Sam Romero goes from reliever to Friday starter

Sam Romero’s transition from reliever to starter has propelled him to the top of the weekend rotation

This season, ASU baseball welcomed many new faces to the clubhouse. Some were freshmen who Sun Devil fans are just now getting familiar with.

But one was a junior college reliever, transferring into the ASU program: Sam Romero

Romero transferred from Phoenix College to ASU, becoming a key component of head coach Tracy Smith’s plan to bring Sun Devil Baseball back into the spotlight after suffering an uncharacteristic losing season in 2017.

So far, Romero has appeared in six games, and through those six contests, he owns a 1-0 record with a 3.91 ERA and a save.

Romero made his first appearance for the Sun Devils on opening day against the Miami Redhawks, tossing three innings of shutout baseball while surrendering only two hits. His effort became part of ASU’s first win of the 2018 campaign.

Romero’s first three stints on the mound constituted relief work, but that changed on Friday, March 2, when he started his first Friday game for the Maroon and Gold. 

“My role was the setup man,” Romero said. “I was supposed to be in the eighth inning, but then I kept doing good and it wasn’t until Wednesday (Feb. 28) when (pitching coach Mike Cather) told me I was throwing Friday. I was pumped. I was ready to go.”

In that first Friday night start against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Romero cruised six innings, giving up five hits and a run while punching out seven batters. 

“I was only jittery in the beginning (during) the national anthem,” Romero said. “Once the game started, it was like, ‘I’ve been (here) before,’ so I was able to go out there and do my thing.”

Since then, Romero has led the Sun Devils to Friday wins over University of North Carolina Wilmington and University of Oregon, the latter of which he went 6.1 innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. 

Interestingly, Romero’s starts on the bump have all led to Sun Devil wins. The ASU offense has also outscored opponents 25-9 when he gets the nod. 

Romero’s teammates also enjoy having him start on the hill.

“He’s fun to play behind because he’s always around the strike zone and, at any point, you know the ball is coming to you and he’s going to make big pitches for your team,” freshman infielder Gage Workman said. 

“He has really good tempo,” freshman infielder Alika Williams said. “He just keeps the game moving and everyone on defense stays locked in when that’s happened.”

If there is any indication from earlier, Romero has proven himself a strikeout machine, recording at least five Ks in each of his starts so far. 

“He’s been throwing three pitches for strikes,” Smith said. “Our biggest thing right now is competing in the zone with some conviction. He’s done that, and truthfully, he’s done it since he stepped on campus.” 

Romero’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is also superb, currently sitting at 23:4. 

“Once you get ahead (in the count), you’re able to play with the hitter a little bit,” Romero said. “Getting that first pitch strike, it allows us to get to our off speed which is in our favor.”

 Contagious Energy

While Romero’s 2018 stat line speaks for itself, the energy a pitcher, and in particular a starting pitcher, brings to the game is paramount for team morale. Romero has quickly become known by his teammates for his energy level, both on the mound and in the dugout.

“It’s contagious,” Workman said. “Pitchers do good, our offense does good. It kind of goes full circle.” 

He has become an integral piece in Smith’s resurgence of the historic baseball program that has won five national titles and has appeared in 22 College World Series. 

And through three Friday night starts, he has won over the HC. 

“We’re 3-0 (in Pac-12 Conference) rolling into a great UCLA team this year,” Smith said. “We’re going to roll Sam Romero out there on Friday and give us a chance to win at UCLA.”

ASU faces No. 17 UCLA beginning this Friday in Los Angeles for a three-game weekend series. Romero will look to guide ASU to a fourth conference win in his fourth Friday night start. 


Reach the reporter at michael.baron@asu.edu or follow @Michael_Baron96 on Twitter.

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