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Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero throws to the Detroit Tigers in the first inning of their MLB baseball Grapefruit League home opener in Dunedin Florida March 3, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL)
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero throws to the Detroit Tigers in the first inning of their MLB baseball Grapefruit League home opener in Dunedin Florida March 3, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL)

Romero makes pitch to be opening day starter Add to ...

Come the start of the regular season for the Toronto Blue Jays, the routine has become as perfunctory as slathering bats with pine tar or shoving a container of chewing tobacco in the back pocket.

The manager grabs the lineup card and pencils in the name Roy Halladay as the Blue Jays opening day starting pitcher.

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It has been that way for a franchise record seven consecutive seasons but it will be a luxury that will be deprived Toronto manager Cito Gaston in 2010 now that Mr. Complete Game was traded in the off-season to the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Blue Jays insist they have not yet decided who will be the honour of starting the regular-season opener on April 5 in Texas against the Rangers.

But he very well could have been on the mound for Toronto here yesterday on a cold and blustery day - by Florida standards at least - when the Blue Jays played their first Grapefruit League game of spring training against the Detroit Tigers at Dunedin Stadium.

Ricky Romero, who was hard-pressed just to make the Toronto rotation a year ago, was the Blue Jays' starter and he pitched well in a 7-6 Tigers victory.

The left-hander threw 29 pitches (17 for strikes) over his two innings of work and surrendered just two hits - including a solo home shot to Brent Dlugach.

Chris Lubanski, a non-roster spring training invitee, crushed a three-run home run shot for the Blue Jays in the eighth.

Other than that fat fastball down the centre of the plate, Romero appeared solid, moving the ball around the plate and also using his curve and slider to good effect.

"I felt like I threw strikes, that was the biggest thing," said the 25-year-old, who went a surprising 13-9 for Toronto a year ago but still led all Blue Jays starters with 79 walks over 178 innings pitched. "I feel I'm right where I need to be and everything feels fine."

In the absence of Halladay, the Blue Jays are unclear who their ace will be this season.

The front-runners appear to be Romero and Shaun Marcum, who has looked good in camp as he tries to rebound from Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery that kept him sidelined in 2009.

Brian Tallet, if he doesn't wind up in the bullpen, is another option for a top-of-the-rotation guy.

Gaston said he liked what he saw from Romero but said it is far too early to entertain thoughts of the left-hander being Toronto's opening day starter.

"We haven't made that decision yet," Gaston said. "He pitched good, though. He gave up one run but he pitched well."

It was an unseasonable 8.8 degrees at game time yesterday, with swirling 34-kilometre-an-hour winds making it feel almost Toronto-like for the Blue Jays.

Pat Gillick, special adviser to the president of the Philadelphia Phillies, was among the 3,096 in attendance.

Fitting for a team that will be riding an infusion of youthful enthusiasm into what, in all likelihood, will be a trying year, the Blue Jays displayed a little bit of good and a little bit of bad in their Grapefruit debut.

The good, along with Romero, was a double steal by Jose Bautista and Aaron Hill in the first inning, aggressive base running that was seldom tried last season.

"We want to be aggressive in a smart way," Gaston said. "You know, pitcher's going to give it to us we're going to take it. We're going to do some small things to try and win."

Some of the bad included an 0-for-2 afternoon at the plate for Travis Snider, the left-handed-hitting 22-year-old who has been told by the team he needs to prove his worth during spring training or else start the season in the minor leagues.

Snider appeared completely baffled striking out against a couple of left-handed Detroit pitchers, first Nate Robertson and then Ryan Perry, hacking wildly at pitches well out of the strike zone for third strikes on each occasion.

"If he's going to play every day he's going to have to hit some left-handers," Gaston said. "I'm not sure we want to really platoon him."

In the Tigers' eighth with a runner at third and one out, Detroit batter Mike Rabelo hit a hard one-hopper to first to Randy Ruiz, who is hoping to land one of openings on the Toronto bench.

Ruiz was preparing to come home to cut the run off but the ball popped out of his glove and he had to take the out at first instead.

"It's going to be a long year, Cito," yelled one of the paying customers.

He just might be right.

YOUNG GUNS

Roy Halladay was the go-to opening day starter for the Toronto Blue Jays for a record seven consecutive seasons. But with his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in the off-season, the honour is up for grabs this year. Ricky Romero, who got the start for the Blue Jays yesterday in their spring training Grapefruit League opener, is in the mix to take the mound when they open the regular season on April 5 in Texas against the Rangers. Veterans Shaun Marcum and Brian Tallet are also under consideration. If Romero gets the nod, he would be the fourth youngest starting pitcher in franchise history at 25 years 150 days. Here is a list of the youngest Jays starters:

1 Todd Stottlemeyer, 1990

24 years 324 days.

2 Tom Underwood, 1979

25 years 104 days.

3 Jim Clancy, 1981

25 years 112 days.

4 Dave Stieb, 1983

25 years 257 days.

5 Roy Halladay, 2003

25 years 321 days.

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