LAS VEGAS 51s:

51s pitcher regaining velocity after shoulder problems

Davis Romero models game after former big leaguer Hershiser

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Sam Morris

Las Vegas 51s starting pitcher Davis Romero throws against the Portland Beavers Thursday, June 13, 2009.

Thu, Jun 25, 2009 (11 p.m.)

You didn’t have to look far to find Davis Romero on a summer Thursday evening while he was growing up in his native Panama.

That’s when the national television station would broadcast a game from Major League Baseball, giving youngsters like Romero a chance to dream of playing on the sport’s biggest stage.

Romero remembers being mesmerized by the game, which usually featured the Cleveland Indians because Panama’s Einar Diaz, the Indians’ reserve catcher, was one of the country’s lone big-leaguers.

Romero, a left-handed pitcher for the Las Vegas 51s, soon became a fan of the Indians' Orel Hershiser and tried to model his game after the current ESPN commentator.

Ask Romero about Hershiser and his eyes light up — surely similar to those nights in front of the television.

“I hope to meet (Hershiser) one day and be interviewed by him,” Romero said. “I liked how he was an aggressive pitcher and not afraid of (pitching to) anybody.”

Romero tries to take that same approach each time he steps to the mound for the 51s. After battling shoulder problems the past two years, the 26-year-old is showing signs of the form that led to his promotion to the big leagues in 2006.

Romero has seen the velocity on his fastball clear 90 mph and feels his off-speed pitches are becoming more consistent.

While his record isn’t too impressive at 1-2 overall with a 4.97 ERA in 29 innings, he has proven to be a valuable part of the staff because he is willing to alternate between starting and coming out of the bullpen.

Romero opened the season in the bullpen but received a spot-start on June 13 in a doubleheader at Colorado Springs. He gave up three hits and no runs with five strikeouts in five innings. He has remained in the rotation.

“I’ve gone back and forth (between starting and the bullpen) the last couple of years,” Romero said. “I’m just happy for the opportunity they have given me.”

Romero, who hails from Aguadulce, Cocle, a small agricultural city with a population less than 20,000, signed with the Toronto Blue Jays — the 51s’ parent club — as a 16-year-old.

Toronto offered a $7,000 signing bonus and Romero has been chasing his dreams ever since. In 10 years, he has posted a 42-36 record with 620 strikeouts in 659 innings.

Romero said his father earns $200 a month working as a truck driver, making his bonus and the chance to reach baseball stardom too big of an opportunity to pass on.

“I went home that day and begged my mom to let me sign,” Romero said. “Because of baseball, everyone in my family can live better.”

Romero is part of Toronto’s 40-man roster, which means he receives about 40-percent of the major league minimum salary of $390,000 annually to pitch in Las Vegas.

Returning to the big leagues, where he went 1-0 with a 3.86 earned run average in 16.1 innings in 2006, won’t happen overnight.

The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Romero missed all of 2007 after having surgery on his pitching shoulder to repair and torn labrum, and he couldn’t finish last year because a blood clot in the same shoulder.

“His stamina is getting better and the velocity is starting to return to his pitches,” 51s manager Mike Basso said. “He is a little guy and has some deception on his pitches. His fastball really gets on you.”

Panama’s most notable big leaguers are New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera and Houston Astros slugger Carlos Lee, who is also from Aguadulce, Cocle.

Romero hopes to add his name to the list — and, if all goes as planned, be interviewed by Hershiser on ESPN.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com.

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