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Garfield’s Pitching Loss a Winner for Roosevelt

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ricky Romero was like a classic-model car that had fallen into disrepair during his sophomore and junior seasons at Garfield High.

Though the left-hander possessed promise, his air filter hissed, his spark plugs misfired and his brake fluid leaked. Little wonder, then, that he had a losing record.

Then came a transfer to Roosevelt and a complete overhaul. Now, Romero is commanding high market value after becoming the most dominant strikeout pitcher in Southern California.

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The senior, 8-0 with 101 strikeouts in 47 innings, attributes his transformation to Roosevelt Coach Scott Pearson and his top assistant, pitching coach Ernie Rodriguez. That makes sense, considering they know a thing or two about good mechanics.

“When he came to us, his mechanics were off,” said Rodriguez, a former minor league manager who works for the Independent Scouting Bureau. “What I tried to do was smooth his mechanics down and give him a good rhythm and try to establish good balance with his body and try to get him to have a good, consistent release point.”

Romero hasn’t allowed an earned run in 28 consecutive innings while compiling a 0.44 ERA this season. His performance has recently drawn the attention of coaches from UCLA, USC and Loyola Marymount--as well as a slew of professional scouts.

“He has major league potential,” Rodriguez said. “I think if you project, he’s going to grow another couple of inches, he’s going to put another 20 pounds [on his 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame]. And I think he’s going to throw in the 90s.”

Romero’s fastball has been clocked as fast as 87 mph, enough to overpower hitters when combined with what is considered to be almost a major league-caliber curveball. He is also working on a changeup that he hopes will become a regular part of his repertoire.

Romero has struck out as many as 17 batters in a game, which he accomplished against Harbor City Narbonne, rendering his teammates meaningless for all but one out.

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“When I’m out there in left field, I’m just like, What am I out here for?” said senior Cris Gonzalez. “They don’t hit the ball to me. It’s just strikeout after strikeout.”

Last week, against his former Garfield teammates, Romero posted a five-inning 10-run rule no-hitter in which he allowed two walks and recorded 14 of 15 outs by strikeout. Romero had Garfield’s final hitter behind in the count, 1-and-2, before he popped up to second base to end the game.

Apparently, Garfield players and coaches weren’t thrilled with Romero’s departure. After striking out the first six batters he faced, Romero came up to bat and was promptly plunked on his throwing elbow.

Garfield Athletic Director James Pierson said the school filed an inquiry with the City Section over allegations that Pearson recruited Romero, though no wrongdoing was found and Pearson insists he made no illegal contact.

Romero said he decided to transfer after observing the warm way in which Pearson interacted with his players. “It amazed me,” Romero said. “It made me want to come over here and have that kind of coaching.”

Romero said he received little pitching instruction at Garfield, where he ran on his own and conducted his own bullpen sessions. “I was throwing across my body, I wasn’t landing right and my release point was off,” Romero said of the bad habits he developed.

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Pearson said Romero, on track to break Roosevelt records for wins (12) and strikeouts (102), has been a plus for more than his pitching prowess.

“He wants to learn, and he’s very coachable,” Pearson said. “Everything we do, he believes in and buys into it. He’s the kind of kid that makes me want to come to practice every day and teach the kids.”

Romero gives Roosevelt (17-4), No. 25 in The Times’ rankings, the ultimate weapon as it attempts to break the San Fernando Valley’s stranglehold on City Section titles; Valley teams have won in 28 of the last 29 years. Chatsworth, which has won four titles during that span, defeated Roosevelt, 2-1, in last year’s title game.

But know Roosevelt will be revved up if it gets a rematch, with Romero leading the way.

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THE TIMES’ RANKINGS

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