The stuff still comes and goes but yesterday, rookie pitcher Ricky Romero gave the Toronto Blue Jays dugout a dose of what the team's front office was pushing when it kept raving about his "makeup," even as players from his draft class passed him en route to the major leagues.
One-hundred-and-eighteen pitches? Really?
"In college, I'd throw 120 or 130, but this is the most up here," Romero said after the Blue Jays' 9-4 win over the Washington Nationals. "After six [innings] I went to [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg]and Cito [Gaston]and said: 'I've got enough left in the tank to go one more, if you need me for one more.'"
Romero (4-3) posted his fourth quality start - and a much-needed one for a bullpen running on fumes after back-to-back extra-inning losses - as the Blue Jays avoided a series sweep by the worst team in the majors.
He struck out six and walked three while giving up eight hits. Four of the strikeouts came against the meat of the Nationals order - Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn - back-to-back in the first and seventh innings.
The first-inning strikeouts came after Cristian Guzman singled and Nick Johnson walked, hardly the type of response the Blue Jays wanted to see from the rookie after staking him to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first.
"After the first, Arnie came up to me and said: 'Let's start focusing a little earlier,'" Romero said. "My job today was to give them a quality start."
The Blue Jays will have today off before finishing up the interleague portion of their 2009 schedule with a three-game series at the Rogers Centre against the Cincinnati Reds followed by three more against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Blue Jays went 4-2 on this road trip to finish with a 4-8 interleague road record.
The Toronto bullpen showed its wear in the ninth yesterday, when Jesse Carlson couldn't put the Nationals away and Jason Frasor was needed to get Elijah Dukes for the final out with two men on base.
Compounding matters was reliever Jeremy Accardo's forced exit after one batter in the eighth, with what the Blue Jays hope was only a cramp in his calf caused by dehydration. Accardo, who was pitching for the fourth time in five days, was suffering from diarrhea, according to manager Cito Gaston.
Lyle Overbay, who was 2-for-23 (.087) in his previous nine games, drove in five runs for the third time in his career and the first time since 2006, going 3-for-5 with a long home run into the second deck of the right-field seats at Nationals Park. Marco Scutaro also had three hits, while Scott Rolen and Alex Rios had two hits each for the Jays.
Rolen extended his hitting streak to 11 games (22-for-48, .452) and scored one of the Blue Jays' four first-inning runs with a slide around Nationals catcher Josh Bard, the second runner home on Rios's first-inning single.
The Jays were largely silenced by the Nationals impressive young starting staff in the first two games of the series, but they wasted little time stating their intentions yesterday, with Scutaro leading off with a single and Vernon Wells working Shairon Martis (5-2) for a nine-pitch walk. Scutaro was erased on a lined double play off the bat of Aaron Hill but even that ball was smoked.
"That was more like the way we played before we got here," Gaston said, referring to his team's three-game sweep of the Phillies. "We're happy to get this win … but while you certainly don't like to live in the past, we could have been 6-0."
The Nationals had runners on base early but couldn't deliver a telling blow to Romero, who was aided hugely by two tough inning-ending double plays featuring the defensive stylings of Hill, who stood in at second base despite being steamrolled by Austin Kearns in the fifth and then jumped over Bard to complete a double-play in the sixth.
Hill also made a tumbling catch and threw out Willie Harris to end the third inning with runners on the corners. Small wonder the Blue Jays players are talking up Hill (.302) and Scutaro (.300) as All-Star Game reserves. Those selections are made in league-wide player voting.
"This year, [Hill]has been everything for us," Gaston said. "I was talking about resting him and Scutaro, but I know they don't want to hear any of it. We have some days off - and, hopefully, we can get some big leads so we can get them out of games early."