TUESDAY MARCH 28, 2017
 
Blog EGOS & ICONS
THE TROUBLE WITH RICKY ROMERO
ricky-romero.jpg

Problems? Yeah, the Toronto Blue Jays have got problems, all right.

They've got a third baseman who can't rein in control of his over-caffeinated emotions, or crack the Mendoza line. They've got a left fielder, bat notwithstanding, whose legs seem to have gone gimpy and won't get better. They've got two guys at the back of the bullpen with tender arms, one of whom has been out since the second week of the season. And one year on from 2012's injury horror show, sore elbows and other maladies (skull fracture, anyone?) are still ravaging their starting staff.

That last one, the not-so vaunted rotation, is the place where one of the Blue Jays' most befuddling problems of all would be best suited to help out. But right now, Ricky Romero isn't anywhere close to putting the pieces of his puzzle together. Even worse, he seems to be drifting further and further away from ever regaining his All-Star ability.

In his most recent start at Triple-A Buffalo, Romero couldn't make it out of the first inning, getting sent to a very early shower after giving up eight runs, five hits and three walks. He threw 32 pitches, only 13 for strikes, and just one where a batter swung and missed. The final three hitters he faced all walked, and it took just 13 pitches to issue those final 12 balls.

That unsightly stat line came on the heels of a game that saw Romero pulled from an otherwise respectable outing after four straight walks to open the sixth, missing the strike zone 16 times in 20 pitches. In four starts with the Bisons, his ERA is an ugly 13.85.

Remember, this is the guy the Blue Jays gave the ball to for back-to-back Opening Day starts the previous two seasons, a guy who put up 15 wins and a sparkling 2.92 ERA in the ultra-tough AL East in 2011 and looked to be getting better all the time.

But after deceiving 8-1 start in 2012 masked growing problems of control, Romero spiraled into the abyss. He lost 13 straight decisions over the next three months before finally wining again on September 24. Then, in his final start of the season, he was forced out early with a sore knee, putting a painful cap on a year that saw him post league-worst numbers in earned run average and walks.

Even as the Jays tooled up their roster with a winter of wheeling and dealing, Romero believed he still had a place on Toronto's apparent contender. The same message was conveyed throughout spring training, but his troubles wouldn't go away. Just days before the start of the season, he was sent down to the low minor leagues to work on refining his delivery.

The demotion, Romero said at the time, "hits me to the bottom of my heart." His confidence had suffered cracks before, as a lack of physical control over his pitches destroyed his 2012 season. Now, his mental game was shattered, too. Bringing him back to the big leagues for a pair of spot starts in early May didn't help, either: he left the second after surrendering three runs while getting just one out. After that, Buffalo beckoned.

Romero says it's tough to sleep at night, says he feels like he's fighting himself sometimes as his string of failure drags on. The Blue Jays brain trust is out of answers when it comes to solving his struggles, unsure what to do with a guy who doesn't just scuffle here and there, but tends to let the roof cave in, as GM Alex Anthopoulos put it this week.

From Roy Halladay to Cliff Lee to Barry Zito, there are plenty of pitchers who've looked great, lost it all, then found a way to make it work again, occasionally better than before.

But not everyone is so successful. When Romero was demoted this spring, one scout made a different comparison to CBS columnist Danny Knobler, guessing Romero would end up derailed like Dontrelle 'D-Train' Willis, the once dynamic left-hander who won 22 games for the Marlins in 2005, got sent down to A-ball three years later and was out of baseball by the time he was 30.

With more than $23 million invested in Romero through 2015, the Jays are determined to be patient. But given the way things are going, it's possible that no amount of time will be enough to solve his problems. Like Willis and others before him, Romero is in danger of never getting back on track.

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