In his first 15 starts, he did just that, going 8-1 with a 4.34 ERA. He wasn’t dominant, but he was effective.
Then something happened. Nobody seems to know what, but something changed. In his next seven games, Romero took the loss in each one, posting a 0-7 record with a 9.44 ERA.
And just in case this bizarre story line didn’t have you shaking your head, Romero pitched last Saturday against the same Oakland Athletics that smacked him around for 8 runs in 1.1 innings two weeks earlier. And this time he was on the road.
What happened? Romero comes out with a strong fastball, command over his pitches and gave up one run on three hits in seven innings en route to a Blue Jays victory.
Now, don’t get me wrong, streaks and slumps happen all the time in sports, and no more frequently than in baseball due to the length of the season. But to see a pitcher of this quality go through such a dismal period is troublesome.
This rough patch left manager John Farrell and general manager Alex Anthopolous in a tough position. Under normal circumstances, when you have a 27-year-old pitcher who can’t hit his spot you would send him to the minors. That is exactly what a lot of critics, reporters and fans suggested the Blue Jays do, and, thankfully, exactly what the Blue Jays didn’t do.
It’s no secret that pitchers' psyches are fragile, temperamental and wildly unpredictable. That is only compounded by the fact that Romero is young and puts an immense amount of pressure on himself as it is. Had the Blue Jays designated Romero for assignment, it likely would have shattered any remaining confidence he had and meant all Blue Jays fans could hope for is that he looks better next year.
By keeping him in the Majors to work through his problems, Romero is able to get back to his form, gain the confidence necessary to pitch at the Major League level and work through his problems with the same pitching coach he has worked with all year.
In my opinion, the Blue Jays did a great thing not sending Romero down, but there is still more that can be done.
The Jays need to nurse Romero back to his old self. Give him realistic goals. He doesn’t need to pitch into the eighth or ninth inning every game. If Farrell makes it clear that all they need is a quality start every night, it will be easier for him to make the necessary steps.
The Blue Jays also need to find ways to take the pressure off him. By demoting Brett Cecil and bringing a proven starter into the rotation in J.A. Happ, the Blue Jays might be able to relieve some of the pressure Romero is feeling.
By the time Happ makes two or three starts, Brandon Morrow may be healthy enough to return from injury and further help the Blue Jays rotation troubles.
No matter what happens going forward, Romero will most likely be consulted in the decision. I doubt they’ll move him into the bullpen, and I doubt he’ll ask to be designated for assignment, so I’d expect to see him grind it out for the rest of the year as is.
His last start was encouraging but means nothing if he can’t keep getting better. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to such a puzzling situation, but there are steps that can help the process. Keeping him in the majors, setting realistic goals, and adding some strength to the rotation to take the pressure off Romero are three things the Blue Jays can do to help out their young pitcher.
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