There is so much newness afoot in the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse, so many new pedigrees and heavy résumés, that it is tempting to look past Ricky Romero and tell the erstwhile ace, now fifth starter, to just kind of get back to us when he has it figured out.
Except what else is spring training for but to hope for things and maybe even quietly pull for players? And in the case of Romero there are an awful lot of people in his corner, starting with Brandon Morrow. So, it was perhaps telling on Tuesday that after Romero's first outing of a spring spent recovering from left elbow surgery (not to mention a 9-14, 5.77 record), Morrow kind of peeked around the corner as Romero did his analysis for the press, waiting for the crowd to clear so he could access his own locker and hearing Romero name-drop him, crediting Morrow with showing him numbers that revealed how little he used his two-seam, sinking fastball in 2012. Morrow tried to shoo away reporters by saying the statistics were available on the Internet, then offered a sheet that revealed that there was a staggering drop in Romero's percentage of sinkers thrown.
The 2011, All-Star Ricky Romero threw his sinking fastball 26 per cent of the time to left-handed batters and 21 per cent of the time to right-handed hitters. The wreck that was the 2012 Ricky Romero used it eight per cent of the time to lefties and 13 per cent to righties.
"I was amazed by that," Romero said, after giving up a two-run home run to the Minnesota Twins' Joe Benson in the Blue Jays' 8-4 Grapefruit League loss at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, leaving the game after 36 pitches through 1 2/3 innings. "I felt like last year I kind of abandoned that pitch, where before I threw it on a 1-0 or 2-0 count. I used it 90 to 95 per cent of the time today. We're going to throw it and get the pitch under control. I want to get back to being a guy who is going to get ground-ball outs and quick outs and get back to the pitcher I was."
Romero said he had no clue why he ditched the pitch. So besides wondering why manager John Farrell, pitching coach Bruce Walton or catcher J.P. Arencibia or somebody else didn't alert him to it, the logical explanation is all those scouts and opposing managers who spent all season whispering something was wrong physically with Romero might have been right. Romero suffered from knee pain late in the season, but in his last interview of 2012, in the dugout at the Rogers Centre, he talked about a clean MRI and was full of words about a calamity dodged and a page being turned.
Then Romero had surgery to clean out his elbow, and early in the spring he told reporters he had platelet-rich plasma injections in his knees. Manager John Gibbons suggested he might have to pitch through knee soreness and all it took was to think "two plus two equals Brett Cecil," whose worries expressed after a so-so spring training outing forecast a downturn in his career. That's one reason that Gibbons, shortly after giving Romero's outing a thumbs up, said he hoped Romero was happy about it when he talked to the press, too. "The knees feel pretty good," Romero said. "We'll stay on top of it. We'll see."
Romero gave up his homer on a hanging sinker, fussed and fumed on the mound and slapped the side of his leg with his glove just like he did so often when he was falling apart in 2012, but he swore later he would keep throwing the sinker come hell or high water.
Romero's former college catcher at Cal State-Fullerton, the Washington Nationals' Kurt Suzuki, said last season that Romero was somebody who took everything to heart, perhaps too much. Romero is close to Morrow, who was gone for much of the 2012 spiral because of an oblique injury. Now he has Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson, too. The bad news is he's no longer the guy everybody looks to; the good news is he's no longer the guy everybody looks to. He's just Ricky Romero, and everybody's pulling for him.