What in the world do the Toronto Blue Jays – and by extension, the Buffalo Bisons – do with Ricky Romero now?
Romero set Buffalo’s modern-era record by issuing nine walks in just 2∏ innings in the opener of Friday’s doubleheader against Gwinnett in Coca-Cola Field. He walked five straight at one stretch and threw just 25 of his 74 pitches for strikes.
It was the latest gruesome outing for the former Toronto all-star who is making $7.5 million this season and has not been able to find the plate since the middle of 2012.
In seven starts for the Bisons this year, Romero is 0-2 with a 6.07 earned-run average – and has issued an International League-high 32 walks in just 29∏ innings. But he was back at the ballpark Saturday getting in his pregame work and preparing to throw on the side today.
“That’s what I’ve always done, going good or bad,” Romero told The Buffalo News. “I look forward to the next day, forward to coming out here and working. My work ethic has never changed, whether I’ve been successful or not. The struggles are pretty hard. It’s sleepless nights for sure. At the same time, you still have a job to do.”
Romero went 5-8, 5.78 in 22 starts for the Bisons last year and only walked 63 in 113∏ innings. But he’s walked 24 in his last four starts this year and Friday’s outing might rank as the ugliest by a starter in the ballpark’s 27 seasons. Romero missed badly with his pitches, mostly high and away to right-handed batters or in the dirt with offspeed deliveries.
Romero says his arm is fine but is starting to wonder if there could be some issues with his knee. In October, he had injections of stem cells from the bone marrow in the back of his pelvis into both knees, with the hopes of regenerating cartilage and ligaments.
He admitted the knees are not 100 percent but shouldn’t be having major impact. Still, it was clear Romero was spinning off the lower half of his body when he was landing on the mound. It’s a sign the knees could be causing trouble with his release points.
“It’s frustrating and it’s definitely not fun,” he said. “You go home, sit there and kind of say, ‘What the hell happened?’ But you wake up today and it’s a new day. People have all seen what I can do. Spending that much time in the big leagues was not a fluke. I know it wasn’t.”
Romero, 28, has made 127 starts in the big leagues and was a 15-game winner for the Blue Jays in 2011. The club is on the hook for another $7.5 million to him next season. In the short term, he’ll be pushed back a couple days so he can attend his younger brother’s graduation at Long Beach State. He’s then planning to rejoin the Bisons over the weekend in Louisville.
Before heading to Buffalo to watch Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Lehigh Valley, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos talked to assistant GM Tony LaCava about Romero and all options appear to be on the table. They include a demotion to Double-A or the extended spring camp in Dunedin, Fla., or perhaps a move to the bullpen or disabled list.
“Obviously it wasn’t a good outing, that goes without saying,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s something we’re going to discuss. We’re always trying to get our players right and get them on track. We haven’t gotten that far yet. We’re going to brainstorm and we’ll see if we can come up with some solutions.”
Bisons manager Gary Allenson was the third-base coach for the Baltimore Orioles in 2010 and recalled how dominant it seemed Romero was at times.
“When I saw him there, he had us eating out of his hand,” Allenson said. “He wasn’t Greg Maddux out there but I remember hitters talking to themselves about the changeup. You have that changeup in the back of your mind and you can’t pick up on the fastball. He really toyed with us.”
Romero said the baffling part is his pregame work in the bullpen usually goes well and he can’t translate it to the game mound. He said he would rather have given up nine hits in 2∏ innings instead of nine walks. Romero said he’s not that interested in pitching out of the bullpen because he likes the routine of a starter. The Jays briefly sent him to Dunedin last year, but it didn’t seem to help.
“It’s still baseball and you’ve got to throw strikes,” he said. “If you’re not throwing strikes here, what’s the difference if you’re in Dunedin or Double-A or wherever?
“In my career I know I’ve always walked guys and It’s something I’ve wanted to improve. Now I understand it’s so much under the microscope. You try to not let it wear on you but it’s hard. Stuff like this has never happened to me before in my career or my life.”