Three years after trade, Romero joins Nats bullpen

Three years ago, a Nationals club stuck around the .500 mark made only one deal at the July 31 trade deadline, and it wasn’t one anybody expected. They dealt veteran reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs for a Single-A relief pitching prospect named Jhon Romero.

The move seemed to have more to do with moving Kintzler and his salary than in acquiring someone who was likely to make an impact for them in the near future, but three years later the Nats called Romero up. And if he takes the mound in Cincinnati this weekend, the 26-year-old right-hander will be making his major league debut for them.

“I talked to him, I congratulated him,” manager Davey Martinez said in his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “He worked really hard to get here up.”

Martinez knew a little about Romero at the time of the trade, having been the Cubs bench coach while the young reliever was coming up through their farm system. He liked what he saw, both in his performance and his attitude.

Nationals-bag-bat-dugout-sidebar.jpg“They asked me about him (prior to the trade) and I said: ‘From what I know, he’s feisty, but he throws strikes. He’s always around the zone,’ ” Martinez recalled. “That’s something I always like: a guy who’s not afraid to throw his fastball for strikes and pound the zone.”

That’s exactly what Romero has done throughout his minor league career. In six professional seasons, he has 204 strikeouts with only 51 walks in 177 1/3 innings. Those numbers were even better this year at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester: He had a 2.95 ERA and 1.109 WHIP in 55 innings, striking out 69 while walking only 11.

The 5-foot-10, 195-lb. native of Colombia joins the Nationals bullpen for the final 10 games of the season, for now taking the roster spot that opened up when outfielder Yadiel Hernandez went on paternity leave.

Hernandez, whose wife is due to give birth to the couple’s second child, can miss up to three days while on the paternity leave list, but the Nationals are waiting for news from him and his wife.

“So far, so good,” Martinez said. “Haven’t heard if they’ve had the baby or not, but I talked to him this morning and he’s excited on having a little girl.”

Romero takes Hernandez’s place on the active roster, but the Nationals also needed to clear a spot on their 40-man roster for him. They opted to designate catcher Jakson Reetz for assignment, a move that could end his time in the organization.

Reetz, the Nats’ third-round pick in the 2014 draft, made his major league debut earlier this summer when the club lost both Yan Gomes and Alex Avila to injury. He appeared in two games off the bench (July 10-11 in San Francisco) and went 1-for-2 with a double in his first career at-bat.

The Nationals optioned Reetz to Triple-A Rochester after the All-Star break upon signing veteran René Rivera to help out in the catching department. In 75 games between Rochester and Harrisburg, Reetz hit .185 with six homers, 26 RBIs and a .610 OPS.

Martinez says he hopes Reetz clears waivers and remains in the organization, though the 25-year-old’s opportunity to make it back have diminished in recent months after the club acquired catchers Keibert Ruiz, Riley Adams and Drew Millas at the trade deadline.

“I’m hoping that he comes back, because even though we’re taking him off the roster, it doesn’t mean we give up on him,” Martinez said. “If he comes back, you can’t have enough catchers. You really can’t. They’re hard to come by. We think he still has potential to reach his peak, and hopefully will one day get back up here if we need him.”

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