Seth Romero, the highly touted pitching prospect who made his major league debut for the Nationals two weeks ago and had become the club’s only active left-handed reliever, broke his right hand in a fall late Saturday night and has been placed on the injured list.
Romero, who faced four batters in the bottom of the fourth inning during the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Marlins, told manager Davey Martinez he slipped on a set of stairs later that night after he left Nationals Park and tried to brace his fall with his non-pitching hand. He reported to the ballpark Sunday morning with a swollen hand and went to get X-rays; the club found out later in the day the hand was broken.
“I feel bad for the kid, ‘cause he worked diligently to get here,” Martinez said today during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “He’s young, and he’s a big part of our future. ... Hopefully, this is just a minor setback for him, and as soon as he heals, we’ll get him back here.”
To fill the sudden vacancy in their bullpen, the Nationals have promoted another prospect, Ben Braymer, from their alternate training site in Fredericksburg. The 26-year-old, an 18th-round pick in 2016, was the only other healthy left-hander on the organization’s 40-man roster, with Sean Doolittle and Roenis Elías both rehabbing from injuries.
The fact that Romero reached the big leagues this summer was itself a dramatic turn of events for the 2017 first-round pick, whose career up to the point had been sidetracked by a string of unfortunate events. Dismissed by his college team at the University of Houston for rules violations, the lefty was a gamble of a draft pick by the Nationals, and they wound up needing to send him home from his first spring training for repeated curfew violations.
Romero’s pitching career then hit a major roadblock when he tore his elbow ligament and required Tommy John surgery, which prevented him from making any appearances the entire 2019 season.
Wanting to make sure he still had a chance to pitch and continue his development during this minor league-less season, the Nationals gave Romero a spot on their 60-player pool and intended to have him work in Fredericksburg. But when Doolittle and Elías went down, general manager Mike Rizzo decided to give him his first big league promotion.
Romero’s Aug. 13 major league debut in New York was an eventful one: He got out of a jam in his first inning of relief and struck out a pair in the next inning, but then served up a grand slam to the Mets’ Tomás Nido. He bounced back five nights later in his next appearance in Atlanta, retiring two of three batters faced, including slugger Freddie Freeman.
Romero came in Saturday night to replace fellow rookie Wil Crowe and was the victim of poor defense (a misplay by Trea Turner, plus his one of his own) and a fluke strikeout that got away from catcher Yan Gomes and turned into a run-scoring wild pitch.
Because the injury is to his non-throwing hand, Romero will be able to begin rehab quicker than if it was his throwing hand. Martinez said he’ll report to Fredericksburg and stay conditioned. Once he’s cleared to wear his glove again, he’ll begin throwing to keep his arm fresh in case he recovers in time to return before season’s end.
In the meantime, Martinez wants his young lefty to keep his chin up and think about what he accomplished this year.
“In a short period of time, you’ve done really well,” the manager said he told Romero. “And I’ve got to reiterate, you’re a big part of what we’re doing here and our future. This is just a minor setback.”