Maybe this really is a new start for Ricky Romero. In a year that has been measured by trips to the disabled list, the self-described last man standing of the Toronto Blue Jays' rotation rolled into the clubhouse on Sunday with shades on, hoodie pulled over his head and without a limp, let alone crutches or a walking cast. Considering how lousy Romero's 9-14 season has been – through Saturday he had the majors' worst WHIP (1.67) and walks per nine innings (5.22) and an opponents' average of .277 that is tied for sixth worst – coming out of a magnetic resonance imaging test with body and soul intact must have seemed like tossing a no-hitter.
Romero left Saturday's win over the New York Yankees after the third inning, when he came up lame delivering a 2-2 pitch to Andruw Jones. Romero finished the inning and was diagnosed with inflammation in his quadriceps muscle just above the kneecap on his left, push leg. Nothing structural, in other words, and given the carnage to the Blue Jays' rotation this season (Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison undergoing surgery, Brandon Morrow missing 2 1/2 months with an oblique injury), it was something more than just a small mercy.
Romero and the rest of the Blue Jays are just three meaningless games against the Minnesota Twins away from dropping the curtain on the type of season that should cause all manner of introspection. Even before Omar Vizquel's criticism of manager John Farrell and his staff for a lack of communication and a failure to engender a culture of responsibility in the clubhouse, there was a sense of on-field waywardness about this team.
But here's where it gets delicate for general manager Alex Anthopoulos and his staff: Considering how seldom this team was whole, how do you evaluate the season, at a time when you need to either sign your manager to a contract extension or let him go?
Anthopoulos's off-season agenda ought to be clear. Get the manager done, convince Pat Hentgen he needs to have a role on the coaching staff, then add another every-day offensive player, preferably a left-handed thumper.
Anthopoulos needs two more starting pitchers, one of whom can give him 200 innings and lots of strikeouts. No works in progress or rehabilitation cases, thanks.
The only untouchables on this team ought to be Jose Bautista (for now), Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Adeiny Hechavarria, Brandon Morrow and, yes, Romero, because he is the biggest unknown of the team's core group, that 13-game losing streak aside.
Romero's college catcher, Kurt Suzuki of the Washington Nationals, said last weekend that people in Toronto need to relax about Romero.
"With Ricky, it's always mental and he always figures it out," Suzuki said. And Romero gave a sense of that on Sunday, talking about how even when he was 8-1 he was not happy with the way he was pitching, how he'd pick apart the videotape of his wins because something just didn't seem or feel right.
"Omar [Vizquel] asked me one time: 'What's wrong with you, you're 8-1?' I was like, 'Yeah, but it's not good,'" Romero said. "He said, 'You got to take the wins as they come, man.' Even Brandon said, 'Take it, man. Screw whatever happens.' The next thing I knew, I'm sitting back and, man, I just want to win a game."
Do not underestimate the impact of Morrow's absence from the clubhouse. "He knows me better than anyone else," Romero said. Morrow was the one guy in uniform who could relate to the demands of being a front of the rotation starter. He was Romero's throwing partner, and his dry, pointed sense of humour led him to know what buttons to push.
Yet Romero is quick to add that he feels his teammates "had my back," and it's clear he thinks his manager did as well.
"John was dealt a bad card this year," Romero said. "It's tough to manage a team with a lot of guys going in and out, and I think you have to tip your hat to the job he did. It wasn't a fun year or a good year for us with the injuries and stuff that went on."
Three games left and one defeat away from a 90-loss season, that's the only thing clear about 2012.