When the Toronto Blue Jays opened their spring training schedule, Ricky Romero was just an afterthought.
Yes, he was at major league training camp along with the rest of the team, but that was due to his contract and past accomplishments—not because he was expected to be on the Opening Day roster for the 2014 season.
In fact, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos had removed Romero from the team’s 40-man roster last October and outrighted the 29-year-old to Triple-A Buffalo.
This meant that any other team could’ve claimed Romero from the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 draft, as unlikely as that was given his struggles these past two years and the fact that he’s still owed $15.6 million on his contract.
But nevertheless, that move by Anthopoulos showed the team’s lack of confidence in the left-hander ever finding his 2011 form again when he had been an All-Star and had posted a 2.92 ERA in 225 innings.
Since that outstanding season, things have gone steadily downhill for the one-time ace. His ERA in 2012 was an AL-worst 5.77 among qualified starters.
2013 was even worse as Romero failed to make the team out of spring training and then went on to post a 5.78 ERA in 113.2 innings in Buffalo.
Just when it looked like Romero’s career in the major leagues was in jeopardy and he had thrown his final pitch in a Blue Jays uniform, it appears that he’s finally turned a corner.
Going into this spring training, the Blue Jays had declared the fifth spot on the rotation open for competition. While Romero initially wasn’t expected to be a contender for the job, he’s definitely being considered now after looking a lot like his old dominant self on the mound during his three Grapefruit League appearances.
With a 1.97 ERA, lowest among all starting pitchers on the team, and six strikeouts in seven innings, Romero has shown that he may be ready to return to the major leagues at last.
His fastball is hitting 94 to 95 mph. His off-speed pitches have had a good break to them.
Most importantly, Romero has said that his knees, which had bothered him throughout last season, have finally begun to feel better following stem-cell treatment and rehab in the offseason.
Not everything has been flawless and there are still some concerns. Finding the strike zone has been a bit of an issue, as highlighted by the five walks the left-hander has surrendered.
But there’s no denying that Romero has definitely been going in the right direction, and his performance right now is already much better than it was at any point during the last two years.
While there are no guarantees that he will make the team, finishing spring training on a strong note is sure to open up eyes and serve notice that a return to the big leagues could be imminent for Romero. That alone is more than what could’ve been said about the pitcher just two weeks ago.
Considering that the Blue Jays missed out on a last-minute deal with Ervin Santana and projected fourth starter in the rotation J.A. Happ has struggled with injuries and underperformance in spring training, having a rejuvenated Romero in the rotation would go a long way towards giving the team a chance to compete in the AL East.
All stats are from mlb.com
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