What Happened to Ricky Romero?
Ricky Romero’s outing on Wednesday against the red hot Oakland Athletics was not the sort of performance you would expect from the ace of an American League team. By the middle of the second inning, Romero completely lost control and was replaced. It was a bases loaded walk (one of several in his short outing), which capped off a 66-pitch, 6 walk and 8 hit debacle. When the book was finally closed, Romero was charged with a miserable 8 earned runs in an inning and a third of work. Now even top pitchers like Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander have rough starts but unfortunately the sub-par lines have become more the rule than the exception for the Jays’ number-1. In the month of July, Romero’s ERA is 8.88 and his previous month wasn’t that much better at 7.33. Only two of his last nine starts have been quality starts, and his record is a deplorable 1-6 in that span. So the question that on most Jays’ fans minds is - What happened to Ricky Romero?
Let’s turn the clock back one year ago. Romero had a career year with an ERA of 2.92 and a WHIP of 1.14, solidifying himself as the top starter on the Jays rotation. Other than the odd tough start here and there against opponents like the Red Sox and Yankees, who pretty much always hit well anyway, Ricky was very consistent. Only July saw him post an ERA over 4 (4.31), and 20 of his 26 outings were quality starts, certainly good enough to warrant his top spot. In fact, the last two months of the season saw Romero only have one non-quality performance and that was at Yankee Stadium, which isn’t friendly to any visiting pitcher. By the end of the year expectations were fairly high for both him and Brandon Morrow. As the 2012 season progressed, Ricky shrugged off a tough start in Cleveland to finish off April with four good starts, including an 8.1 inning, 3-hit masterpiece against the powerful BoSox. May and June were much weaker months as Romero’s control started to falter. The walk totals began to climb and it seemed like he wasn’t fooling anyone. If Romero’s walk totals weren’t high the hit totalswere inflated – a trend that has continued until Wednesday’s 16-0 drubbing, the worst shutout loss in Jays’ history.
There are a couple of factors which may have contributed to this collapse. Let’s begin with the heightened expectations on the Jays this year. When patrons of Leaf games began chanting “Let’s go Blue Jays” in March, that was a pretty clear indication that the extra wild card meant that the fans expected baseball beyond the first week of October. Generally three players tend to take the brunt when the fans demand greatness: the top hitter (Jose Bautista), the closer (Sergio Santos, who didn’t really stay healthy long enough to factor in) and the ace (Romero). Bautista struggled out of the gate but he had to deal with these expectations last year coming off his 54 home run season and the power slack was picked up by Edwin Encarnacion and Kelly Johnson early on. Joey Bats eventually hit his stride. Romero on the other hand has the honor of singlehandedly carrying the starting rotation after three of the Jays’ first five starter options went down with major injuries. In my opinion, due to the uncertainty of the other four pitchers in the rotation, there has been too much pressure on Ricky to throw a gem each time he hits the mound.
Mechanically, Romero has a strong arsenal of pitches; he has a curve, slider and change-up, which all complement his 2 and 4-seam fastballs very well. The issue arises when his curve and slider aren’t moving the way they should and wind up either hanging, or are too far out of the zone to trip up the hitters. Romero has had to rely extensively on his fastballs as his other pitches have not been as effective as they were last year. Romero’s fastball tops out at around 95 mph on his best day, which is not good enough if the hitters are sitting dead-red. He isn’t Jamie Moyer, but he is also certainly not Randy Johnson. When Ricky is striking out batters it’s because he’s making the hitters respect his curve and slider which can drop into or out of the sweet-spot in the blink of an eye, and just when they least expect it, blow a fastball by them. The ball is falling out of the zone too early and when it does get in there it stays up, not allowing for the soft ground ball and ideally the double play if the batter does make contact. If Ricky wants to bounce back he has to find his curve again.
Jays manager John Farrell has stated that Romero will continue to make his starts and a trip to the minors is not on the agenda as of yet. The fact that most of the Jays pitching staff is laid up probably contributes to Farrell’s stance. Personally, I think that Romero has too much talent and has too good a body of work to be written off and his current slump should end as the Jays enter August. As for the playoffs, it is not likely in the Jays future with their pitching health woes, not to mention Bautista’s injury and the strength of the AL West teams in particular. They’ll likely be an above .500 team and Romero will retain his number 1 spot, or at least a 1a with Brandon Morrow.
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