Ricky Romero: There's a New Sheriff in Town
One of my favourite (Canadian-style baby!) movies of all time is Unforgiven. You've got Clint Eastwood at his grizzliest, and Gene Hackman playing the heel to a tee. It's the perfect Western and it's always worth a watch.
I could spend a whole article praising the movie, but you know, baseball.
Ricky Romero had himself a rough night at the office against the Red Sox yesterday. That's not stopping me from pronouncing him, "Exactly What the Toronto Blue Jays Need".
He's something special, and he's going to be that way for a long time.
Romero is about to fill the Clint Eastwood role for the Jays.
In Unforgiven, Eastwood's best friend Ned (Morgan Freeman in his greatest non-narrarator role) is killed and used to decorate a saloon. So, in classic Eastwood fashion, Clint steps into the bar to confront Hackman's posse. He gives the cowboys one chance to leave and then promptly fills the bar full of lead.
That's exactly how Romero pitched last night. He was touched up early by the most nerve-straining duo in Major League Baseball, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, and then (after a timely chat with Cito Gaston) proceeded to mow down Red Sox batters with absolutely filthy stuff.
Romero's face was a combination of determination, confidence, and disdain for any man who dared to settle into the batter's box.
With his hat pulled down over his eyes all you could see was darkness and a grimace that held no pleasantries for Boston. He should have been wearing spurs and a gunbelt with that kind of body language.
That's something Toronto has been missing, a great personality.
New York has always had the Steinbrenners, Boston has a combination of David Ortiz, Johnathan Papelbon, and Theo Epstein. Tampa Bay has Joe Maddon providing sage wisdom and Baltimore has the hovering spectre of Peter Angelos.
In Toronto we have Roy Halladay, who's far too workmanlike to be brash. He's Clint, but he's not the Clint who can provide the soundbites that make a movie famous. He's a grinder by name and reputation.
If he leaves, his spot needs to be filled by someone who can provide the unbridled confidence that Doc has.
That was Romero last night. When he was dialed in the Red Sox were flailing at the perfect combination of a mid-90's fastball, a scythe-like slider, and a changeup and curve that had them on their heels.
To steal Brett Favre's bit, Romero was a gunslinger out there.
Where Rick got into trouble was trying to be a little too fine. That's where a Roy Halladay is superior, Doc will pitch to contact with little fear, whereas Romero was seeking the perfect pitch.
An example of this was in the fifth inning. Romero was pitching to David Ortiz with men on first and second.
After blowing a first pitch fastball past Big Papi, Romero started nibbling and got himself into a full count. Instead of reaching for another fastball to challenge Ortiz, Romero went with the changeup.
It stayed up a little and Ortiz slapped it opposite field for a near home run. Slapped it. Ortiz is still a good hitter, but his bat speed has slowed and going the other way with a mid-80's changeup means either A) He was sitting on a breaking ball, or B) He was slow to the ball and used his strength to muscle a double.
Sure, Romero had just suffered a 12-pitch at-bat with Pedroia, and walked Youkilis, but Ortiz would never had got around on the heat.
Sometimes you just gotta let it fly. Romero has a tremendous fastball that would have had Ortiz crushing air. In this situation the perfect pitch just didn't work out for Rick.
When it did work, there hasn't been a presence like that in Toronto since Roger Clemens was striking out everyone and their grandmothers in 1997-98.
Romero is filling the role that Dustin McGowan should be playing right now: A power pitcher that has hitters guessing.
Issuing five walks to Boston is like dangling a steak in front of a tiger. Eventually it's going to bite your arm off or start in with a breakfast cereal jingle. Rick was eventually punished, but that shouldn't discourage him at all.
Romero has a kind of wildness that makes him more effective. He'll issue some walks, but he can also entice batters with pitches they know they shouldn't swing at. Yet they do anyways because the pitches look so sweet before turning into something usually reserved for the Seventh Circle of Hell.
Opposing batters are swinging at 27.5 percent (thanks Fangraphs.com!) of Romero's pitches that are outside the strike zone. That's 2.5 percent better than the rest of Major League Baseball.
Even better is that when teams swing at the junk they're only making contact 52.9 percent of the time, compared to the MLB average of 62.4.
On all of Romero's pitches, big league hitters only make contact 76.9 percent of the time, better than 80.7 for the rest of the pitchers in the league. He's a strikeout machine in the making.
Toronto is a team that has a kind happy-to-be-there mentality. There's no venom running through anyone's veins in that clubhouse. And they need, every baseball team needs, a guy who is evil reincarnate.
I'm going to call it calculated arrogance, the cocky gunner mentality with the ability to back it up. Romero has the potential to do this.
Right now, Romero is working through a brilliant rookie season and is settling into his role with the Jays. But you can see that bubbling through the rookie persona is a guy who can take the mound with respectful disgust for his enemy, and can throw filth like an angry garbageman.
Off the top of my head, pitchers like Pedro Martinez had calculated arrogance. Josh Beckett has it, and Tim Lincecum has it. Romero could be the next pitcher to brandish it to the rest of MLB.
You can just see it in his face. He never looked frazzled, he just got angry at himself and at the batters who DARED to face him.
All that was missing was him guaranteeing victory before the game. It's good to be humble, but sometimes you need a guy to be the pitbull, someone who's chomping at the bit to dominate. That's Ricky Romero.
Romero is still young and a team like Boston, who excels at running up pitch counts, can still get to him. That's how he got chased from last night's game, but don't expect the trend to last.
Toronto is creating a monster with its rotation. Everybody is filling their roles accordingly.
Roy Halladay is the Rock, Ricky Romero is Charlie Sheen in Major League, Marc Rzepczynski is the Everyman, and Brett Cecil is the Wild Card.
Scott Richmond and Shaun Marcum are waiting to return this season, Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan will be back next year.
All of these pitchers have given Toronto excellent efforts on the mound. The question looms: What are the Jays going to do with all that pitching?
Any team don't wanna get beat better just clear on out the back.
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