The latest chapter in Ricky Romero’s career was written on Tuesday evening following another lack lustre spring training performance. The Blue Jay brass announced that the lefty, and former ace, would be optioned to Dunedin of the Gulf Coast League (High A ball). Romero has had a poor spring so far, posting an ERA of 6.23 over 4 starts. This comes on the heels of a disastrous 2012 campaign which was highlighted by a 13 start losing streak. His final numbers would be 9 – 14/5.77 ERA/1.67 WHIP.
Romero’s main downfall was his inability to locate his pitches for strikes; he would end up walking a career high 105 batters. It seemed that every time Romero took the mound, he did so with a can of gasoline. He looked lost and appeared to lack confidence. Even when his team would stake him a lead, Romero looked eager to give it right back.
That’s how Ricky has looked all spring.
Spring training stats usually mean nothing; performances on the other hand speak volumes. Brandon Morrow for instance has posted an ERA well over 7, but most of his scrapes had come in one poor inning. Morrow also had an excellent 2012 and very well could have been an all star if not for an oblique injury that sidelined him for 2+ months. Romero on the other hand has looked poor in every inning he’s pitched this spring and has not showed any improvement from 2012.
Despite manager John Gibbons all but “guaranteeing” a spot for him in the 5 man rotation, Romero’s demotion was made possible by JA Happ’s stellar performance this spring. The bullpen wasn’t really an option, especially with guys like Jeremy Jeffress and Brett Cecil in the mix and out of minor league options. One of Happ or Romero had to be sent down. The Jays look to have made the right decision.
Romero’s demotion has immediately brought comparisons to Roy Halladay. In 2000, Halladay posted an MLB record 10.64 ERA through 19 games (13 starts). Following that terrible season, Halladay was optioned to Class A Dunedin to start the 2001 season with the main focus being to work on his delivery. Even though his fastball was capable of lighting up the radar gun, it had minimal movement, and was susceptible to being pounded.
Halladay spent half a season altering his delivery. He dropped his arm slot from “over the top” to the ¾ position. He transitioned from a power pitcher to a control artist, trading speed and power for control and consistency. He would be recalled shortly after the all star break and would post a 5 – 3 record with a 3.19 ERA in 16 starts in 2001. Halladay would go on to become one of the best pitchers in the majors and the best pitcher in Blue Jays history. The Jays are hoping that Romero can follow a similar path and make a triumphant return to the big league club.
This isn’t the first adversity that Romero has faced as a Blue Jay. Romero was infamously selected one spot ahead of Troy Tulowitzki in the first round of the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft. The Jays selected Romero because they had previously selected shortstops in the 1st round in the previous two drafts (Russ Adams and Aaron Hill). Ironically both shortstops drafted would end up having a minimal impact as a SS, and would transition to 2B at the MLB level.
While Romero toiled in the minors, Tulowitzki tore up the majors. Tulo made his debut in 2006 and was the driving force behind the Rockies World Series run in 2007. Whispers around the majors were that Romero may prove to be a “bust” and it didn’t help that then Jays GM JP Ricciardi told Sports Illustrated that he “made a mistake” by drafting Romero 6th overall. Romero would put cut that article out and tape it in his locker; using it as motivation to prove all the doubters wrong.
By the time Romero made his MLB debut in 2009, Tulowitzki was already a household name in the baseball community. Romero had an impressive rookie campaign in 2009, and showed improvement every season after that until the wheels unexpectedly fell off in 2012. Here’s a look at Romero’s first 3 seasons with the Jays:
2009: 13 – 9 • 4.30 ERA • 178 IP • 1.52 WHIP
2010: 14 – 9 •3.73 ERA •210 IP • 1.29 WHIP
2011: 15 – 11 • 2.92 ERA • 225 IP • 1.14 WHIP (All-Star)
Ricky is reportedly handling the demotion like a “pro.” He gets it. It is a business after all.
It’s a similar business decision that was made with Adam Lind last year. In Lind’s case, he was demoted to AAA after a month and a half of struggling at the plate in the majors. When he was demoted on May 17th, Lind was hitting .186/3/11; he was even put on outright waivers at one point. Lind was sent to AAA Las Vegas in order to work on his swing. Lind would spend just over a month in the minors before being recalled in late June. Lind definitely showed improvement following his recall, and he would finish 2012 with a line of .255/11/45. Maybe Romero should talk to Lind about how he handled the situation.
Ricky should look at it this way though, it’s better to go and work things out at the minor league level than have to try and figure things out under a microscope. With the Jays slated to possibly contend this season, you don’t really need Romero to crumble under the pressures that have been heaved upon the Jays in 2013.
But the question still remains, what caused Romero to “lose it”?
Is he trying too hard? Pitchers tend to become erratic and miss the zone when they’re over throwing. Could it be an emotional stress? Perhaps the pressures of becoming the de facto ace of the Jays caused Romero to over compensate and try too hard to lead by example. Maybe the issue isn’t even related to baseball and is more personal. Could his relationship with former Miss USA Rima Fakih be a factor? The only person who knows for sure is probably Romero, and even he can’t figure it out. The only thing we do know is that Romero is going to have to find whatever he lost and get it all put it together before he can go back to making an impact on the Blue Jays roster.