The Nationals signed former Philadelphia Phillies J.C. Romero to a minor league contract and sent him to Class AAA Syracuse, giving the Nationals a potential left-handed option for a bullpen that currently counts Sean Burnett as its only lefty.
Romero, 35, was designated for assignment and then released by the Phillies in mid-June after he posted a 3.86 ERA in 16 1/3 innings, walking 12 and striking out 10. In his career, Romero has held left-handed batters to a .215 batting average and a .312 on-base percentage, striking out about one of every four lefties he’s faced. Left-handers went 5 for 29 with four walks against Romero this season.
If Romero pitches well at Syracuse, he could join the Nationals and give them the second lefty reliever they have lacked since Doug Slaten went on the disabled list in late May.
UPDATE, 6:27: Manager Johnson said the Nationals are hopeful Romero can get back up speed quickly and pitch well enough to join the Nationals, since he feels they need a second lefty in the bullpen.
“I think everybody does,” Johnson said. “We’ve got some quality arms down there, don’t get me wrong but again, it’s a left-hander that can get people out. Just having a lefty... I want a guy who can come in and get a guy out. Romero, I think it’s a great pick up.”
Johnson said Romero will work with Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams. Meantime, Slaten does not seem like he’ll be return anytime soon. He’s still going through physical therapy in his rehab from an irritated ulnar nerve.
“I told [the trainers] don’t put his name on the report unless he’s got some good news,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t on there.”
Romero has pitched for four teams in his 13-year career. He becomes the third National in the organization, along with Jayson Werth and Matt Stairs, who played on the world champion 2008 Phillies. In 2008, Romero won two World Series games, including the clinching Game 5.
That offseason, MLB suspended for 50 games for taking a performance-enhancing drug. The league said at the time it believed Romero had not tried to cheat, but that he had been negligent in taking an over-the-counter supplement. Romero called the suspension “unfair” at the time and has continued to defend his actions.