Toronto Blue Jays: Does Ricky Romero Still Have What it Takes to Be a Starting Pitcher?

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COMMENTARY | Can Ricky Romero still be a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball? Nevermind with the Toronto Blue Jays, but on any club?

The question would have seemed absurd this time last March when Romero was being paraded around as the Toronto Blue Jays ace in the pitching rotation. Coming off of a career season, where he also made an all-star appearance, No. 24 started 2012 with an impressive 8-2 record.

Then the wheels fell off. Romero's confidence spiralled as the pressure of being the staff's top hurler seemed to make him crack. The 28-year-old limped to the finish line, producing only a single victory between the months of July and September.

So when Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos dramatically improved the starting pitching this past winter it should have taken the majority of pressure off of Romero.

This doesn't seem to be the case. The southpaw struggled mightily in spring training where he walked 10 batters, only struck out eight and posted a 6.23 ERA over five outings.

However, history may be on Romero's side. The 6'0", 225-pound fastball specialist had a worse statistical Grapefruit League campaign in 2011. That evolved into his best MLB season to date. In contrast, he was lights out terrific a year ago in Dunedin and we all know how that turned out.

The 180-degree negative turnaround was completed when it was announced that Romero would officially be staying in Florida for Class-A ball, while J.A. Happ secured the open starting spot in the Jays' rotation. From number one to the minor leagues, quite the transformation.

As a four-year veteran, the Cal State Fullerton alum is being kept down to work on his mechanics and to make sure that offseason knee treatments were effective.

On March 27, Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker commented:

"...considering the year, the full body of work, where he was physically as well, I think it was definitely

time for the change ... I think he realizes he needs to make the change and it's something we're all in

agreement that needs to be done."

According to MLB.com reporter Gregor Chisholm, Romero will be focusing on:

"...(pitching) with his hips more square to the plate. He has a tendency to throw across his body, with his front foot falling off to the side. It's a directional issue and one that causes problems with his command."

Many comparisons have been made to Roy Halladay's demotion to the minors as a young Blue Jay in order to refine his abilities. It is something that Toronto fans are crossing their fingers turns out the same way.

The big difference? Halladay was not a previous ace in the rotation.

Romero was overly hard on himself in front of the media after losses in 2012. How shaken is his confidence now that he is not in the majors? Can he emotionally recover and come back?

Another question to ponder is whether their will be room for the Los Angelas, CA native when he is ready to return to the bigs.

The five man starting rotation is set in Toronto with R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buerhrle, Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ.

If Happ carries over from his hot spring would manager John Gibbons dare pull him to give Romero a chance? No injuries and mostly positive results from all these pitchers means that Ricky is the odd man out.

Odds are that a set of circumstances occur where Romero does get another shot to prove that he still has the goods. The tweaking of mechanics is not the greatest problem for him, it all comes down to his mental state.

The lefty will most likely show flashes of past glory this year, but is never going to be able to recapture that dominant presence of an effective major league starter. Romero is too much in his own head and no amount of training or coaching can resolve that.

It's a shame that this new powerhouse version of the Blue Jays has passed him by.

Andy is a sports journalist and broadcaster with over 8-years of industry experience covering professional, collegiate and minor league sports.

Follow on Twitter @AndyMc81.

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