WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Left-hander Seth Romero is on schedule and progressing well as he recovers from Tommy John surgery seven months ago, hoping to write a positive next chapter after a few off-the-field missteps.
“It’s going really good,” Romero said. “They have a bunch of guys who have been through the same process, so I’m just doing what they tell me. So far, so good.
“The rehab guys, we work out six days a week and we throw three days out of the week. We do shoulder care every day. Just the normal stuff people would do in the process of coming back.”
“Seth’s doing great,” said Nationals pitching coordinator Paul Menhart. “He’s recovering well. He’s in the beginning stages of his throwing progression coming back from Tommy John. It’s a lengthy throwing program that we’ve developed a number of years ago even before (Stephen) Strasburg and (Jordan) Zimmermann went through it. We feel like we are really good at accomplishing getting these guys back to their pre-injury (status).”
If all goes well in his rehab, Menhart believes Romero can pitch late this season.
“Our hope is to get him game ready in that August range,” Menhart said.
Romero will throw from 90 feet for the first time Monday. And that milestone is one that Romero does not take for granted.
“It’s definitely exciting getting to throw because you take so long away,” Romero said. “I’m definitely excited to throw 90 feet. I’ve been throwing 60 feet. You are anxious to get out there but you just got to trust the process of what they do. Take it one day at a time.”
“One day at a time” is certainly a good mantra for Romero to follow right now. He has been through a lot the past few years, not making the best decisions, even before he was drafted by the Nationals.
Romero was kicked off his college baseball team at the University of Houston prior to the 2017 amateur draft. He had been suspended for various offenses while at school, including in 2016 a “lack of effort regarding conditioning,” according to the Houston Chronicle. The paper later cited a suspension the next season from the team due to “failing a drug test due to marijuana use.”
But Romero looks to be in a better place now. His frame of mind has changed. He is in good baseball shape. He is concentrating on listening to the Nats coaching staff and coordinators, including Menhart and the pitching rehab coordinator Mark Grater, among others.
“I just learned that they know what they are talking about,” Romero said. “Trust them. Just keep doing what they want me to do. Go day-by-day and everything will be fine.”
Romero has had many close to him help him get back on track. He said everyone checks in on his progress and monitors his emotions. And Romero said he feels different than when he arrived in 2017. He leans on his family and his teammates to help stay focused. But he also has done some growing up since early last season, when he was sent home from spring training by the Nationals for violating club policy.
“My family has definitely helped. Everybody here has been a tremendous help for sure,” Romero said. “There’s not a single person that stands out because they all want to know how I’m feeling. They all want to know what’s going on, how I’m looking. Pretty much everyone pitching staff-wise has been phenomenal.
Romero pitched for low Single-A Hagerstown in June and July 2018, starting five games in June and then one July 3. Early on, Romero had to battle hamstring and ankle issues. He finally returned from the injured list to start an Aug. 16 game against Lexington before being shutdown with the torn ligament in his elbow.
“This is my third year, second full season,” Romero said. “You just learn a lot being around the older players and being around people that have been there, done that. I feed off their energy and learn from them. It helps. Spring training helps being around the older guys.”
Romero is not rehabbing alone. He says there are a few other players going through injury recovery. He is working with shortstop Yasel Antuna, who also had Tommy John surgery last August.
“There are other guys that are going through the same rehab as me, like my throwing partner, Antuna. He’s going through the same thing I am,” Romero said. “I think there are four or five us that are borderline same time line so we are all pretty close.”
Romero was listed at 250 lbs. at Houston, but he looks to have trimmed at least 15-20 lbs. off his frame, and replaced it with muscle in his legs and upper body. He said he trusts the Nationals’ rehab plan and follows it by the book.
“I remember the first day I came to throw and they were like we’ve had to do this (many times), we’ve had tons of guys go through this and our track record is great,” Romero said. “Trust what they say and everything should be perfect. That’s what I’ve been doing. So far, so good.”
Romero throws a four-seam fastball, changeup and slider. Recently, he learned to throw a quality changeup thanks to advice from a teammate who hails from the Lone Star State.
“I got up here and my throwing partner was (former Texas A&M right-hander) Brigham Hill and he had a really good one,” Romero said. “He kind of helped me develop mine and then I threw it nonstop until I got the feel that I wanted for it.
“I really didn’t have one in college. So the one I did (develop) was pretty solid. It can only get better, but it did what I wanted it to do for the most part.”
Romero grew up an Astros fan, so working out in a complex in West Palm Beach that hosts his Nationals and the Astros makes it fun for his family. He idolized the pitching of left-hander Andy Pettitte, having attended college with Pettitte’s son, Jared.
“He was smart,” Romero said of the five-time world champion Pettitte. “He is a real stand-up guy, too, I met him a couple of times. Great guy. His son went to U of H with me. He attacks. Puts the ball where he wants it. Does his job.”
Menhart said the left-hander is right on schedule in his return from the major surgery. Menhart said Romero has matured from those past incidents and suspensions, and his focus is purely on recovering from Tommy John so he can get back to playing baseball.
“No doubt about it,” Menhart said. “He’s hungry. He’s not antsy, he’s hungry. There’s a difference. His throwing program right now ... everything is going extremely well. He has made a nice focus change. He has a great attitude.
“He’s really focused on every other day throwing and he is in that training room doing his exercises. He’s doing what it takes to keep him on schedule for that August (return), hopefully.”
Romero’s focus is forward. He appears to have learned from past mistakes. Now he wants a healthy arm so he can continue his dream.
“My arm feels great as of right now,” Romero said. “If it keeps feeling like this than I’ll be excited for the season.”