Before the game, the talk touched on Ricky Romero and whether he deserved to be characterized as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff heading into the 2012 season.
After his debacle Wednesday night against the Oakland Athletics, that talk will certainly shift to just how long the Blue Jays can afford to continue to send Romero out to the mound every fifth day.
The 27-year-old’s bewildering season came to a boil at an ungracious Rogers Centre, where the left-hander endured his worst outing of his four-year major-league career, lasting just 1 1/3 innings during a 16-0 punch-out by the A’s. It was the largest shutout loss in Jays history.
Eight of the runs were scored against Romero – seven of them in the disastrous second inning in which the A’s sent 12 batters to the plate and scored eight times to open up a 9-0 lead.
Romero (8-7), who lost for the sixth consecutive outing, started hearing the boos as early as the first inning when he walked the first of two batters, helping Oakland into a 1-0 lead.
The derision would only mount in the second inning as Romero continued to struggle with his control, leading to four more walks (one intentional) and a wild pitch as the A’s turned the base path’s into a merry-go-round.
Romero’s night was over after he walked Chris Carter with the bases loaded, forcing in another run.
As Romero slowly made his way from the mound amid the cat-calls from many of the 23,948 in attendance, his head was hung low all the way into the dugout.
Before the game, Toronto manager John Farrell discussed the struggles that Romero has endured this season after starting off the year as the team’s No. 1 hurler in the rotation.
In his previous five outings heading into Wednesday’s catastrophe, Romero was pitching to an unsavoury 8.33 earned run average with opponents teeing off to the tune of a .354 batting average.
After coming off his finest season in 2011, in which he went 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA, Farrell was asked if he would have referred to Romero as the ace of his staff heading into this year.
“The whole ace thing, to me, is irrelevant,” Farrell said. “Guys are going to lead in their own way. Our No. 1 starter is the starter that’s going that night. And that’s how I view it.
“A ranking order, a preference, or some other label that’s put on guys, that means nothing to me.”
The Blue Jays, who continue to believe they have what it takes to challenge for one of the wild-card playoff spots, are looking for an opportunity to insert the recently acquired J.A. Happ into the starting fold.
Romero just might have made that decision a little bit easier.
In the mind of Gregg Zaun, the former major-league player and now a baseball analyst for Sportsnet, Romero hasn’t accomplished nearly enough to have earned himself the calling card of an ace.
“An ace is an obvious guy – it’s a Halladay, it’s a Verlander, it’s a Smoltz, a Maddux, a Glavine-type guy,” Zaun said in an interview earlier on Wednesday. “They are guys that you’re going to see win 15 to 20 games almost every single year.
“They are guys who you face and you’re thinking, ‘If I could just work a walk somehow.’ You’re not even worried about getting hits.”
With all the turmoil surrounding Romero it almost went unnoticed that A.J. Griffin was pitching a no-hittter for Oakland into the fourth inning.
That was stifled when Edwin Encarnacion knocked a ground rule double.
In the view of Zaun, who was a catcher during his playing days, Romero’s problems have advanced to the point where they are as much mental as anything.
Zaun was asked what Romero needs to do to try to remedy the situation.
“Go out there and pitch and try to toughen up a little bit and toughen up mentally and not be so hyper-critical of everything that he does,” he said. “Just go out there and make one pitch at a time and take a step backward after the game and evaluate the body of work.
“Don’t ride the roller coaster of emotions from pitch to pitch.”