Toronto Blue Jays: Ricky Romero Becoming One AL's Elite Pitchers

Paul OxenburyContributor IIIJune 27, 2011

ATLANTA - JUNE 20: Ricky Romero #24 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on June 20, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

At the start of the 2009 season, Ricky Romero was almost pitching for his future. The former No. 1 draft pick's minor league performance had been less than impressive.

In 2008, Romero compiled a distinctly underwhelming record of 8-8 with a 4.55 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. Meanwhile, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was earning plaudits as one of the finest talents in the game.

Why is this important? Romero was taken before Tulowitzki in the 2005 draft and the way their careers were heading, Romero was looking like a poor choice.

How times change.

In 2009, Romero was given the opportunity to claim a spot in the Blue Jays rotation and he took it. Romero posted a very respectable 4.30 ERA in his first full season. A year later and with the departure of Roy Halladay, Romero took the No. 2 spot in the rotation and improved his ERA to 3.73 and his WHIP to 1.29. He was rewarded with a five-year, $30 million contract.

With Shaun Marcum’s departure to Milwaukee, Romero became the ace of an inexperienced Blue Jays rotation, how would he respond?

Quite simply, Romero has been outstanding. His ERA of 2.74 is good enough for seventh among American League starters, his 96 strikeouts put him eighth, while his 111.2 innings are the sixth-most.

It is these kind of numbers that should put him in consideration for the All-Star Game next month.

There is still room for improvement, though. For Toronto to become competitive in the AL East, Romero will have to improve his career numbers against Boston and New York.

Romero has struggled against both, posting a 4.74 ERA against the Yankees, while against the Red Sox, Romero is 2-5 with an eye-popping 7.69 ERA and a WHIP of 2.13.

With the kind of numbers he has put up this season, Romero should be talked about more as one of the top starters in the American League. He may not yet be as good as Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver or fellow lefty Jon Lester, but given his year-by-year improvement and his response to his added responsibility, Romero could become as good as any starting pitcher in the American League.