DUNEDIN, Fla. — A year ago, left-hander Ricky Romero was preparing for his second consecutive opening-day start for the Toronto Blue Jays. Before him, only legends Roy Halladay, Jack Morris, Jimmy Key and Dave Stieb had started consecutive openers for the Jays. The honour seemed justified for Romero, who made the AL All-Star team in 2011 and earned a $30 million contract extension.
On Tuesday, after getting mixed results from Romero in his fifth spring outing of the season, the Blue Jays announced they were optioning him to Class A Dunedin. Romero seemed to have no idea what was coming when he spoke with reporters (who didn't, either) Tuesday afternoon.
"I’m just focused on positives right now. I did some great things out there," Romero said after allowing three earned runs — two earned — and six hits with three walks over 4 1/3 innings against the Pirates.
He talked about staying behind to get in one more start over the weekend while the rest of the Jays moved north to finish the exhibition season at wintry Philadelphia. It had been assumed that, barring a complete breakdown, he would rejoin the team in Toronto for opening day next week.
Not so fast.
Later in the day, GM Alex Anthopoulos announced that Romero would be staying in Dunedin longer than the weekend. J.A. Happ, another lefty, had won the fifth starter's job.
A demotion from the majors to Class A sounds harsh, even cruel, but the Jays are doing it this way for practical reasons. Via MLB.com:
Anthopoulos also said that the decision to send Romero all the way down to Class A had more to do with the climate than the level of competition he's set to face.
"We thought about where we would send him, we ultimately decided, the other affiliates it's cold, rainouts, we want to make sure he gets his work in," Anthopoulos said.
"We're going to continue to work with him down here where it's warm, where can get his work in, and really just continue to get the direction of the plate because he's making strides. Like we told him, we just ran out of time in getting him to where he needs to be."
The hard truth for Romero is, his problems started long before spring training, and they weren't fixed with one mediocre outing. Over his final 17 starts of 2012, he had a 7.35 ERA with 59 walks, 55 strikeouts and an opponents OPS of .910. Romero was dealing with control problems, tendinitis in both knees and, worst of all, an apparent loss of confidence. He couldn't hit the broadside of a space ship with a space laser.
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One of the big curiosities for new manager John Gibbons was, would Romero continue to struggle during spring training? He did, finishing with a 6.23 ERA, though Blue Jays coaches were working with him to fix a flaw in his delivery — so consider that when looking at his stats. Regardless, Gibbons said that Romero's issues go beyond the physical parts of the game.
"It’s a tough game to play to begin with," Gibbons said before Tuesday's game. "When you get to this level, everybody’s got talent, and what separates guys — the really good ones — is the mental toughness a lot of times."
If you think it seems cruel to demote a player from the majors to the Florida State League, how about sticking a label on him regarding a lack mental toughness? Gibbons wasn't saying it to be mean. He was just kind of putting it out there.
Regardless, Romero said he was sick of hearing about his failures at the end of the 2012 season and how they might relate to the present.
"Whatever happened last year, everybody just has to get over it," Romero said. "It was bad, I know, and I don't have to keep hearing it.
"I’m not trying to win the Cy Young, or anything, in spring. It’s you guys who make a bigger deal out of it. And it gets everyone going. The results haven’t been there. Obviously that’s pretty obvious. I see it, but it’s not like I’m not working. If anything, sometimes I over-work on stuff. You want to see results right away, but sometimes it doesn’t happen and you get frustrated."
Which is why the Jays are giving Romero all the time he might need. If that's all he needs. And with the team and media moving on without him for now, Romero can continue his work in relative peace.
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