The very thing that makes Ricky Romero a formidable pitcher also makes him a pain in the butt to catch.
His pitches have movement, late, great movement in which the ball spins and dips into the dirt at the last moment at more than 90 miles an hour, causing grief for the catcher.
This season, Toronto Blue Jays catchers John Buck and Jose Molina have been criticized for their inability to consistently block Romero's throws and thereby prevent base runners from advancing.
Romero's wild pitch total has risen from six in 29 starts last season to 12 in seven starts this season, worst in the major leagues. No other Blue Jays pitcher has more than two.
Romero's closest rival is Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox, a knuckleballer who has six wild pitches this season.
Blue Jays pitchers lead the majors with 22 wild pitches. The Los Angeles Angels are second with 20.
"It's not a concern to me," Romero said of his wild pitch tally. "Those guys [Buck and Molina]are doing the best job possible. Sometimes the ball just does some crazy stuff and I know it's hard to control it at times."
Buck, who joined the Blue Jays this season as a free agent after spending the six previous seasons with the Kansas City Royals, said Romero is the toughest pitcher he has had to catch in his major-league career.
"This guy is abnormally weird-hard to catch," said Buck, who has been behind the plate for eight of Romero's 12 wild pitches. "Over in Kansas City, I've caught some hard guys who didn't know where the heck the ball was going.
"With Ricky, the tricky part has been learning that all his pitches have some movement and even he doesn't know which way some of his throws are going to cut or sink. And because he throws so hard, it makes it all that more difficult."
Both Buck and Molina were not with the Blue Jays last season when Rod Barajas handled most of the catching duties and wild pitches thrown by Romero were never an issue.
Toronto manager Cito Gaston said he believes Romero is throwing better, not to mention tougher, this season, which could explain the increase in wild pitches. He might have a point.
A pitcher who needs to keep the ball low to be effective, Romero's strikeout ratio this season has jumped to 8.94 over nine innings from 7.13 a year ago.
"He's got pretty good stuff that bites down in the zone," Toronto pitching coach Bruce Walton said. "And he buries pitches to get strikeouts. They're pretty hard to handle at times. I think that his strikeouts and put-away pitches are pretty dirty and I think those pitches are harder to block than most."
Walton said there is no way he is going to ask Romero, 3-1 on the year with a 3.42 earned run average, to try to keep the ball up.
"I think that things will improve," Walton said. "I think the catchers will make adjustments and start to anticipate more to be able to block some of those pitches.
"But we can't ask Ricky to change his style of pitching. If we give up 10 more wild pitches, we give up 10 wild pitches. That's what pitchers are taught to do, bury pitches when they're ahead in the count."
NOTES With a 7-3 road trip to bolster their confidence, the Blue Jays are home this weekend for a three-game set against the Texas Rangers. "We played well on this road trip," said Blue Jays pitcher Shaun Marcum, who earned the victory in Toronto's 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. "The guys swung the bats well, we had a couple of come-from-behind wins in the ninth inning in Cleveland and Chicago. And we had some good starts." … The Blue Jays took care of some minor housekeeping Thursday, assigning outright the contract of third baseman Shawn Bowman to New Hampshire of the Eastern League (AA). Bowman, 25, was claimed on waivers on April 14 from the New York Mets. Bowman is a native of New Westminster, B.C. … Travis Snider, who accounted for all three Toronto runs against Boston on Wednesday, picked up his play on the road trip, batting .382 (13-for-34) with five doubles and one home run, lifting his overall average to .222 from .149.
NEXT Friday v. the Texas Rangers, at Rogers Centre, 7:07 p.m. EDT.
STARTERS Toronto LHP Brett Cecil (2-2, 3.12) v. Texas RHP Rich Harden (2-1, 3.53).
TV Rogers Sportsnet (alternate).
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