Since the Orioles drafted left-hander Drew Rom in the fourth round last year, there haven’t been many starts like last Thursday’s against Greensboro. The seven earned runs, 10 hits and three walks he surrendered all either tied or set career highs.
All of that speaks to the 19-year-old’s success this year for Low-A Delmarva, with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP with 116 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings. But as he returns to the mound Wednesday to face Lakewood, Rom has had the full complement of information and instruction available to him to get back on track.
It’s a week’s worth of work that includes video review, diving into the data and time in the bullpen that allows Rom and the rest of the young arms under Shorebirds pitching coach Justin Ramsey to attack their weaknesses and accentuate their strengths while removing the guesswork. It involves plenty of new tactics, but starts with the unteachable traits, such as attitude and athleticism, that get a player this far in the first place.
“His attitude the next day, it was good to see, especially when you talk about a younger guy, what he’s going to come back the next day with,” Ramsey said. “He was ready to go back to work and he’s done a really good job applying it.”
That work always begins with video review, good or bad. With a rainout Friday in Hagerstown for the Shorebirds, Ramsey wanted to let Rom have a little bit of time to get away from such an uncharacteristic start. It was made worse by the umpiring crew reversing a third-out call in the outfield and bringing him back from the dugout in the second inning.
Rom has succeeded all year with a four-pitch mix off an 88-90 mph fastball.
He only had the fastball working in his last start, with neither breaking ball too sharp. The video showed why.
“The first inning, the first batter, we could tell it wasn’t correct or how it has been,” Rom said.
Rom and Ramsey figured out he wasn’t landing on time, which altered his weight load and contributed to his shoulder flying open through his delivery instead of being short and compact.
“It’s something we’ve been working on all year,” Rom said. “Some starts have been worse than others, and it’s all about finding a happy medium to it, through my bullpen, figuring out what feels right and making sure in my minds, kind of going step by step through the checkpoints.”
That’s where Rom was focused in his bullpen session Sunday in Hagerstown.
“For me, it was keeping my shoulder not necessarily closed off, but thinking it’s closed off, and have it travel with my hip and keep that down slope as much as possible when it’s time to throw,” Rom said.
“He’s usually pretty good with it, and I think the aptitude that he’s shown with those feels and the athleticism to kind of do some things that maybe you’d expect to take a couple days for most guys,” Ramsey said, “he usually applies pretty well.”
All of this is backed up by the data revolution that finally got to the Orioles’ farm this year. Rom said a lot of the data from the TrackMan systems from his last start was under what it had been for most of the year. Ramsey said seeing his release-point data can show the pitch-to-pitch symptoms of a mechanical problem.
Once they address the delivery, the use of the edgertronic slow-motion cameras in every bullpen session allows the pitchers to see, in real-time, whether the countless things that go into each delivery are allowing their hand to get to the right place.
“The edgertronic lets us see where the fingers are at, so we know certain things lead to them being on the outside of the ball compared to the top of the ball where we want them, so we can key in on that,” Ramsey said. “What’s nice is seeing it in the bullpen and knowing what the slider looked like before we had the cue. And looking at it afterward and looking at the difference, you can kind of see what you need to see with that kind of stuff.”
Such a routine is well-cast at this point in the season, with Rom having made 20 appearances and Ramsey having learned what works and what doesn’t. Rom said they’re “kind of the same person” in that they’ve “both bought all-in on this technology and how it helps players develop.”
The first full professional season for any pitcher, let alone the youngest the Orioles assigned to a full-season team, can be taxing. It’s a physical grind that pitchers have to learn to live through as well as a mental one. But Rom has enjoyed the record-setting Shorebirds season, and thinks it’s a “huge step forward” in his career to have had a full-season debut like this.
Thanks to this week’s work, he’s more than hopeful his next start will be different from the last.
“I feel immensely more confident in myself that I’ll go out there and compete tomorrow and have a better start than I did last time, just going through my whole progression, going through my routine and having that down pat with a couple of things,” Rom said.