For Mark Romanczuk, there hasn't been a whole lot of down time since he set foot on the Stanford campus last fall. The lefthanded pitcher from Delaware threw 112 1/3 innings as a freshman last season in helping lead the Cardinal to their fifth consecutive College World Series appearance. He followed that up with a very successful month and a half with the US National Team. Romanczuk was one of the stars of their starting rotation as the team took home the Silver Medal at the Pan Am Games. It was then back to Stanford where, all of a sudden, Romanczuk finds himself as one of the leaders of a very young pitching staff.
Romanczuk, along with fellow sophomore Matt Manship, are expected to lead the Cardinal starting rotation this season and they're both up to the challenge.
"We're just going to go out there and compete and give our team a chance to win the ballgame," Romanczuk offers. "In a way, it's different because we'll be relied upon a little bit more so we might have to carry a heavier load of innings or take our team deeper into the game. But we're both prepared to step up and take on a more primary role on the pitching staff."
Individually, the Preseason All-American has a few aspects of his game that he's working hard to improve upon this offseason.
"I'm working on being able to have command of all four pitches at any time and being able to pitch backwards more, like throwing my change-up when I'm behind in the count and at the same time being able to locate my fastball."
Stanford fans certainly are familiar with Romanczuk's knee-buckling curve ball, probably his #1 strikeout pitch. He's not a particularly hard thrower, but when his fastball comes on the heels of that curve ball or his change-up, he has the ability to throw it past even the best of hitters. But that three pitch arsenal isn't enough for Romanczuk as he continues to develop a slider to make him even tougher to hit. Mastering the slider has been another point of emphasis this fall and will be something to keep an eye out for when the season starts in January.
Freshman Success Not many Stanford freshman pitchers are able to achieve the kind of success Romanczuk enjoyed last year. In garnering Freshman All-American honors, Romanczuk finished the year with a sparkling 12-2 record and a 4.01 ERA. He struck out 80 batters while holding opponents to a paltry .241 average. But, was this kind of success expected by the young lefty?
"I didn't really have a pinpoint expectation as far as how many innings I would throw or what role I would play," Romanczuk explains. "I just remember coming in and thinking, if I pitch really well in the fall and in January, that I'd give myself a shot to pitch during the season. I just wanted to be able to contribute and try to help the team win and it was fun just to be able to take the mound."
By early March, Romanczuk was a member of the starting rotation; by May, he had risen to the #2 starter's role. That role meant pitching in all kinds of big spots, both during Pac-10 play and in the postseason.
"It was obviously a lot of fun pitching in some of those big games like the regional championship and the super regional championship. The World Series was also fun even though my performance there wasn't the best it had been during the year. It was a lot of fun and hopefully we'll get another opportunity. And hopefully, I'll get another two or three opportunities in my career here at Stanford to play in the postseason again."
Team USA Adventures
The end of the season last year was certainly not a memorable one for Mark Romanczuk, both on the team level and as an individual. Stanford, of course, fell to Rice by a 14-2 score in the final game of the CWS with Romanczuk as the losing pitcher. But remarkably, he was able to put it behind him and earn a spot on the US National Team just a couple of days later. In fact, Romanczuk joined teammates Danny Putnam and John Mayberry, Jr. on a plane out to Team USA headquarters in North Carolina the very next day after Stanford ended their season. After a couple days of rest, Romanczuk was back on the mound impressing the Team USA coaches who gave him a spot on the roster.
As for that final game of the CWS and being able to put it behind him so quickly, Romanczuk offers this statement: "It was obviously a big disappointment not to be able to win that last game and that was tough. As for my performance and the way I pitched, I knew I could have done a lot better and I felt like I really didn't get a shot to put my best foot forward. But that's something I've just got to move on from. I usually want to keep an even-keel and I can't harp on my bad outings and at the same time, I don't want to harp on my good outings. That's how I play the game."
With Team USA, Romanczuk made five starts and one relief appearance totaling 36 innings. He compiled a perfect 5-0 record with a minuscule 0.75 ERA. He walked just eight and struck out 34 while holding opponents to a .195 average.
"That was a great opportunity," Romanczuk says about pitching for Team USA. "I was really privileged to be invited to the trials and to make the team was even better. And then to travel around with players from Arizona State, USC, and all those other great programs was an honor. The whole summer was just a blast. [USA Baseball] was just a first-class program, both on and off the field."
The 2004 Season
It's been reported here on The Bootleg that hitting will be the calling card for this year's Stanford team. Although the Cardinal pitching may be young with many freshman and sophomores playing key roles, Romanczuk is quick to point out that they should be very competitive.
"We've got a lot of new young guys and I think those guys are going to be able to contribute," the southpaw remarks. "We have guys like myself, Matt Manship, Kodiak Quick, and David O'Hagan, who played important roles last year. I think us four guys are going to be able to come back and be leaders of this staff as far as on the field and during practice in just guiding the staff in the right direction. I think we're going to be competitive just as all the Stanford baseball pitching staffs have been in the past. I think it's going to be a good year for us."
While having a potent offense is a great asset to have once the season starts, it can get rough for Cardinal pitchers during intrasquad games in the fall and in January. Romanczuk argues though that while Stanford pitchers may have to endure some bumps and bruises in those games, it only benefits them in the long run.
"I think that's one of the best parts about this program. Before you even start the season, in the fall and in January, you're trying to get All-Americans out. So when you come up against a Cal State Fullerton, you're prepared. You've faced guys like John Mayberry, Jr., you've faced Danny Putnam, you've faced Sam Fuld and it's not a big step. Also, one of the advantages of the fall is that you can experiment with different things. This fall, I was able to throw my change-up a little more to see how hitters like that react. I can get a game feel to see how they react before we even start the season when it really counts."
Personally, Romanczuk will use his experience with Team USA as a way to get better this year.
"One thing I learned this summer from guys like Jered Weaver (Long Beach State's All-American starting pitcher) and Huston Street (Texas' All-American relief pitcher) is that every time they step on the mound they have their three or four pitches and you know they're reliable and you know they're going to be able to throw them for strikes. That's one thing I want to be this year. I want to be reliable and consistent."
That along with the wisdom of Cardinal pitching coach Tom Kunis has Romanczuk very optimistic that he'll be able to achieve great things in '04. He feels the main key is to be able to stay consistent, something very much needed from the top pitcher on any pitching staff.
"Last year I had some great outings, but I also had some very bad outings," he says. "I was kind of up-and-down. I think maybe that was because I was kind of young and I was just getting used to pitching at this level. This year I have the feeling that I can be a lot more consistent, game in-and-game out."
So Cardinal fans, enjoy the ride and get ready to witness the maturation of possibly the next great pitcher in Cardinal baseball history.
By the Numbers
How Mark Romanczuk's freshman year stacks up against some of the other most successful Cardinal pitchers over the last decade ...
Mark Romanczuk (2003) : 12-2, 4.01 ERA, 112 1/3 IP, 55 BB, 80 SO, .241 opposing average
John Hudgins (2001) : 1-5, 4.27 ERA, 46 1/3 IP, 27 BB, 50 SO, .222 opposing
Tim Cunningham (2000) : 5-2, 3.83 ERA, 49 1/3 IP, 26 BB, 36 SO, .247 opposing average
Mike Gosling (1999) : 1-2, 5.73 ERA, 37 2/3 IP, 26 BB, 40 SO, .320 opposing average
Jeremy Guthrie (1998 at BYU) : 5-3, 6.10 ERA, 59 IP, 48 SO
Justin Wayne (1998) : 6-0, 3.78 ERA, 81 IP, 25 BB, 75 SO, .261 opposing average
Jason Young (1998) : 1-1, 6.35 ERA, 22 2/3 IP, 19 BB, 29 SO, .245 opposing average
Jeff Austin (1996) : 6-4, 3.81 ERA, 89 2/3 IP, 36 BB, 88 SO, .269 opposing average
Kyle Peterson (1995) : 14-1, 2.96 ERA, 142 2/3 IP, 35 BB, 112 SO, .245 opposing average
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