Ricky Romero did enough things right to feel encouraged that he is getting back on track after a spring training of struggles.
And manager John Gibbons felt the same way.
“He pitched good today,” Gibbons said after the Blue Jays defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-3 on Tuesday. “Give him credit he did a nice job. And he smiled.”
The smiles have not come easily for Romero (1-1) this spring training, at least on the field. Despite getting his first win in the Grapefruit League this year, his earned-run average still sits at 6.23 over five starts.
While Tuesday was encouraging for the Blue Jays, it was an uneven outing on a chilly, windy day. Romero went through periods when his control deserted him again, and he rushed his delivery at times leading to a drop in his fastball velocity.
The encouraging thing was that he was able to right himself when mistakes happened.
“Just focus on positives right now,” Romero said. “I did some great things out there. It was a little bit weird with the weather and some balls kind of fell. I felt great. It’s a good start.”
Romero allowed six hits, three walks and three runs (two earned) while striking out two in 4 1/3 innings. He threw 75 pitches, 44 for strikes.
“I still want to throw more strikes, you want to be in that zone and you want guys to swing at those pitches,” he said. “I got a little out of control there in the third inning.”
He walked the first two batters of the third, but allowed only one run when the inning ended with a double play on a line drive.
“I’m just trying to find that rhythm,” he said. “I’m not trying to win the Cy Young or anything this spring. Obviously the results haven’t been there and I see it but it’s not like I’m not working. Sometimes I overwork on stuff and try to see the results so quick. I think that’s the biggest problem. Sometimes we want to see results right away and it doesn’t happen you get frustrated.”
Romero has been working with pitching coach Pete Walker on adjusting his delivery. There were times when the fastball didn’t come out Tuesday at full velocity.
“Some of those were fastballs, sometimes you kind get a little out of whack and you try to aim and all of a sudden you get back on your horse and then you get back to your normal velocity,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting back to that arm angle and not speeding up the body, and when I speed up the body it seems like I’m throwing a grenade to home plate and it’s not as fast as it should be. When I stay within myself and stay back within my mechanics it’s pretty natural.”
Romero, who has gone from No. 1 in the rotation last year to No. 5 in a revamped starting five, entered the game with a 7.27 earned-run average after his first four Grapefruit League games, giving up seven walks and 11 hits in 8 1/3 innings.
Even more alarming, he struggled in a minor-league game last week, an outing that does not show in spring training statistics. He allowed four runs and five walks in retiring only eight batters and throwing only 29 strikes in 64 pitches.
But he said his work went well after that outing and for a couple of days he took ground balls at third base just to feel “more like an athlete and not feel so robotic.”
Spring training outings are not always taken too seriously, but Romero is coming off a disappointing 2012 season when he was 9-14 with a 5.77 earned-run average after going 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA in 2011. In spring training of that year, Romero was 1-2 with a 7.91 ERA.
When Gibbons was asked Tuesday morning what he wanted to see Romero do in the starts, he said: “Throwing strikes. When he throws strikes he’s good. He struggles when he loses that command.”
Gibbons felt that a good outing on Tuesday would help his confidence.
“For his own sake, he needs a good one,” Gibbons said. “He’s under the microscope after last year. It hasn’t been easy for him. He’s pretty good, too, we don’t want to lose sight of that, it’s still just a spring training game.”
Romero threw 10 strikes in 13 first-inning pitches, allowing two hits and a run on a windy afternoon. Starling Marte scored the run on a groundout after leading off with a single on an 0-2 pitch, stealing second and taking third on a sacrifice. The inning ended when left-fielder Rajai Davis made a leaping catch at the fence on Michael McKenry’s fly ball.
Romero came back in the second with three successive outs to escape without a run after a giving up a leadoff double followed by a four-pitch walk. He allowed a run in the third as he again had control problems, allowing two walks to start the inning and a one-out single to McKenry. But Garrett Jones lined out to first baseman Adam Lind for an inning ending double play.
An error by Lind on a throw from third baseman Mark DeRosa on what should have been an inning ending grounder by Marte led to an unearned run in the fourth. Pirates’ pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, who batted for himself in the game, doubled with two out and scored while Marte was out in a rundown on a pickoff-caught stealing.
Notes: Lind was 2-for-3 with a home run and two runs batted in. a Davis also homered. a Right-hander Dustin McGowan made his first Grapefruit League appearance after one minor-league game and looked sharp with a 1-2-3 sixth but will not be ready to break with the team. a. Right-handed reliever Sergio Santos was sent home with flu symptoms. a. It was the final home game of spring training for the Blue Jays. a. Right-hander Marcus Stroman allowed one walk while striking out two in two innings. a. Left-hander J.A. Happ will be the Blue Jays’ starter Wednesday when they visit the Tampa Bay Rays at Port Charlotte. Happ has a spring training record of 1-1 with a 1.89 ERA in six outings, five starts. He is a possible replacement for Romero in the rotation or could also be used in long relief. “Happ’s pitched too good not to be on the team, that’s obvious,” Gibbons said.