In the spring of 2001, before the two Cy Young awards and most of his 199 wins, Roy Halladay was just a young Blue Jays first-round pick struggling with his command and sporting a 10.64 earned-run average from the season before.
Despite already having 33 major-league starts under his belt, the solution for Halladay was a trip down to Single-A Dunedin to work with former Jays pitching coach Mel Queen. Halladay worked on changing his arm angle and other finer points of pitching before being recalled to Toronto at the midway point of the season. He went 5-3 with a 3.10 ERA over 16 starts the rest of the way. Two seasons later, he won his first Cy Young.
That anecdote should sound familiar to current Blue Jays fans and may be the solution needed to fix former ace Ricky Romero.
Romero burst on to the major-league scene with 42 wins in his first three seasons and was an All-Star in 2011 when he went 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA and WAR of 6.2. It was a different story in 2012 when he went 9-14, his ERA ballooned to 5.77 and his WAR was -1.7 – yes, the Blue Jays would have been better off without him.
The Blue Jays were patient with Romero and confident 2012 was a fluke from which he would bounce back. But if 2013 spring training is any indication, whatever plagues Romero has not yet been fixed. Already sporting a 7.27 ERA this spring, Romero made a minor-league start on Thursday as he tries to incorporate a change in his mechanics. It didn’t go well, as Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star points out.
“Romero struggled badly in a first attempt to incorporate pitching coach Pete Walker’s suggested “shortest line to the plate” adjustment. Romero took the change into a minor-league game against a Pirates Class-A team of young prospects, throwing 64 pitches, just 29 strikes. He walked five batters, while recording seven outs, failing to record a third out in any of his four innings in what was a controlled baseball environment.
Finally, Walker had seen enough and came to lift him.”
The Blue Jays, for the first time, appear open to having Romero begin the season in the minors to sort things out. It worked for Halladay, why not for Romero?
“[Blue Jays general manager Alex] Anthopoulos has suggested that optioning Romero to AAA-Buffalo is, now, at least a possibility and the reality, sentiment aside, is the direct-line-to-home-plate adjustment is a legitimate reason.” (The Star)
Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons have continually said Romero is in their plans to start the season in Toronto. But complicating matters is the strong play of starting-pitching hopeful J.A. Happ.
Happ, acquired by the Blue Jays from the Houston Astros last July, has shown he deserves to be a big-league starter in 2013. He had been viewed as either a long-relief man for the Jays, or a starter at Triple-A Buffalo. But his strong play – and his not-so-subtle hints about wanting to be a big leaguer – may force Toronto’s hand.
Happ had another strong performance on Friday, throwing six shutout innings against the Boston Red Sox while giving up just two hits.
The Blue Jays should see Happ’s play as a benefit more than a problem. No major-league team can go through an entire season with just five starting pitchers. The Blue Jays have depth, and with sky-high expectations in 2013 the Jays can ill afford to get off to a slow start, or allow Romero to toil at the back-end of the rotation.
Inserting Happ into the starting five while allowing Romero figure things out in the minors – and keeping the door open for him – seems like a logical solution.
Roy Halladay would probably agree.