The Bullpen: Blue Jays mishandled Ricky Romero
Blue Jays lefthander Ricky Romero is a sensitive man and is not afraid to share his feelings. It’s a “this century” thing.
Recall, in the spring of 2011, when he was named as the Jays’ opening day starter, following the departure in consecutive off-seasons of Roy Halladay and then Shaun Marcum, Romero revealed his history of fighting through the adversity of having GM J.P. Ricciardi show him a public lack of support and how it affected him. He used that perceived disrespect to fuel his fire.
In Romero’s fourth pro season in 2008, while he was still toiling at Double-A New Hampshire despite being a college hero, Ricciardi told Sports Illustrated in an interview that he had regrets that he had not selected shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in June 2005, instead choosing Romero with the sixth overall pick. The Rockies chose Tulowitzki seventh.
Romero had been hurt by the tone of the Ricciardi interview and admitted to keeping the ripped-out page tacked up in his locker as motivation out in the woods of Manchester, NH. Given that glimpse of Ricky’s sensitive inner self, it would be easy to understand the Los Angeles native feeling similar emotions about current general manager Alex Anthopoulos after this summer of his discontent.
Not that players earning millions of guaranteed dollars ever need to be handled with kid gloves, but it can be argued that the Jays have now blown their relationship with Romero. On March 26, they called him into the manager’s office in Dunedin after yet another struggling Grapefruit League start, telling him he would stay behind when the team packed up in three days, shipped to minor-league camp to work on mechanics. He could not talk to media for two days.
The point to remember is that Anthopoulos prides himself on being up front and honest with players. It’s why on the first day of training camp each year, the GM brings all of his players one at a time, even the non-roster guys, into the manager’s office and gives them a no-holds-barred assessment of their chances and what to expect. Romero was never given a hint he may not make the team. He had been the opening day starter in 2011-12 and, despite a terrible season (9-14, 5.77 ERA in 32 starts) the year before, was expected to be able to work things out as the Jays’ fifth starter. Then this.
It was clearly a spur-of-the-moment decision, because after the media had spoken to Romero and to pitching coach Pete Walker on that late-March afternoon, we received a phone call on the way home telling us we needed to return to the ballpark because there was some important news. They had given up on Romero as a major-leaguer until further notice. It was “mechanics” they said. Shocking.
There was to be no timetable. It was not mental, it was mechanical, they insisted. There were hints and references to the Roy Halladay odyssey back when Mel Queen took him down to Class-A after he had already signed his first multi-year deal in the majors, took him back and rebuilt him both physically and mentally. Romero’s Mel Queen was minor-league roving instructor Dane Johnson.
For a month after he was cut by the Jays, he worked alone with Johnson, from nine to noon every day, watching video, changing his routine, his delivery and becoming Ricky Romero II. Finally, he appeared in his first official game, a start for Class-A Dunedin, allowing a run and six hits in five innings. Just step one, right? Well, no. He was quickly called up to pitch for the Jays, replacing Josh Johnson who went to the disabled list. How spur-of-the-moment was it? Romero’s girlfriend was flying in to Tampa that night and had to reroute to Toronto. It was a circus as he set to rejoin the team.
“Funny how things work,” Dane Johnson said of Romero’s sudden promotion. “Based on the last outing we were looking at 16 groundball outs, punching out four guys, not walking anybody and he’s around the zone pretty good. It kind of became the perfect storm after that with (Josh) Johnson going down and who was the next guy? After some pretty extensive thinking on Alex’s part, we had discussed it, thought he was ready and brought him up.”
What were the keys that made the decision happen so quickly?
“Taking a step back and breaking down throwing programs, breaking down where the ball should come from, how he was going to work around all the things that needed to be implemented in his delivery and how they were going to work. Actually they came pretty quick, because No. 1 he’s a smart guy. No. 2 he’s a good athlete. No. 3 he’s a pro and when he realized himself that, ‘hey, I do have to do these things to be able to be effective and throw strikes to home plate,’ I think that it started the flow a little bit for him. He saw the progress. We had little victories along the way as far as the simulated games, the sides, his batting practices. He saw the results of those and took them into his games and he repeated it and he reaped the benefits of it.”
What a load of hooey. After two failed starts, Romero was sent back down to Triple-A Buffalo. The relationship with the Jays, as far as Romero was concerned, seemed to sour. He struggled at Buffalo. He then said he was going back to his old mechanics. He said that he realized his problems were mental. He talked about surrounding himself with people he could trust. He was defiant.
“The biggest thing is confidence, you know,” Romero said. “It was never anything mechanical. What I told the organization was that I was going back to my old mechanics, plain and simple.”
Then, on June 1, Romero was summarily designated for assignment and removed from the 40-man roster in a clear invitation to 29 other major-league teams to reach out and grab their struggling lefthander and, please, please, take over the final $20 million of his contract through 2015, plus a buyout. Of course, the Jays were pretty sure that would not happen, but it was another Romero blow.
“I would hope this wouldn’t bother him, it’s just a paperwork move they need to do to clear a spot,” manager John Gibbons said at the time. “If he’s pitching well, the same thing will happen to somebody else, it’s not like it’s going to keep him from getting to the big leagues. I would hope he wouldn’t look at this the wrong way, it was just a necessity.”
All summer long, after that, when the Jays needed a starter from the farm, it was Ramon Ortiz, Chien-Ming Wang, Chad Jenkins, Sean Nolin and Todd Redmond. Romero became a fixture in the Bisons’ rotation and was consistently inconsistent, failing to pitch back-to-back quality starts at any time. As the season wound down, word from the GM was that if Ricky wan’t going to be used regularly, then it was unlikely that he would be brought up in September. Maybe we misunderstood.
“He’s had starts where you definitely believe it’s around the corner and he’s had spurts where it looks like it’s coming back, and he’s had some other starts where he hasn’t performed as well,” Anthopoulos said. Romero ended the season 5-8, with a 5.78 ERA in 23 starts.
Unless the decision to promote him for the final month was made in consultation with Romero and his representatives, unless it’s to show other teams that Romero is still a part of the Jays’ plans, unless they needed to dangle him at the end of a hook and see if there’s any off-season nibbles, then having him around as a reliever makes no sense. First of all, he can’t get lefthanders out. Second of all, he has never relieved and would need the full warm-up of a starter to be remotely effective.
“I just want to go out and compete, get some outs and end the season on a good note,” Romero told reporters. “That’s the biggest thing: To take advantage of this opportunity. It’s been a long year but I’m glad I’m here, surrounded by (the Blue Jays players).
“As tough as the road has been, I’ve never stopped believing. I’ve been a fighter my whole life and overcome so many things in my career and my life and I am not going to let this defeat me.”
That does not sound like a man that believes he has been treated right by his first and only baseball organization. Oh yes, Anthopoulos has already told Romero not to expect to remain on the 40-man roster this winter, meaning he will be available in the Rule 5 draft if any team wants to take a $15.6 million chance. The GM has had a tough season trying to do the right thing.
BLUE JAYS CORNER
THE WEEK THAT WAS (2-1 at D’backs; 3-0 at Twins): Over the final 19 games, starting on Tuesday against the Angels, the Jays need to be 6-13 to tie last year’s mark of 73 wins, or need to be 14-5 to battle back to .500.
Highlights of the last two games of the Diamondbacks series:
The Jays won the middle game of the series 10-4 on Tuesday, led by a four-home run effort — blasts by Moises Sierra, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion and Rajai Davis. The Jays turned three double plays, giving them a total of seven in the first two games of the series.
On Wednesday, with a chance to sweep, the Jays took a 3-0 lead in the first on an RBI double by Encarnacion and a two-run homer by Davis, his second straight game with a blast. However, Mark Buehrle gave up two in the second and the tying run in the seventh to create a 3-3 tie and send the game to extra innings. With one out in the 10th, Willie Bloomquist stroked a single against hard-throwing Jeremy Jeffress to prevent the sweep.
The Jays turned nine double plays in the three-game series and hit six homers.
Highlights of the Twins sweep:
Following an off-day on Thursday, the Jays opened a three-game set at Target Field on Friday night, where they have had great success since the park opened in 2010. The Jays are now 11-3 at the Twins’ new outdoor home and are 17-4 in Minnesota since 2008.
The Jays took a 6-1 lead after three innings and hung on to win 6-5, with the game ending on a throw down to second by J.P. Arencibia in the ninth inning to nail Alex Presley on the back end of a double play as Ryan Doumit struck out on a Casey Janssen cutter, with the tying run on third.
R.A. Dickey was cruising into the seventh inning, before allowing a two-run homer to Chris Colabello and being chased fromn the game. Dickey evened his record at 12-12. The Jays turned two more double plays, giving them 11 in the four games of the road trip.
On Saturday, J.A. Happ kept the ball down and his pitch-count reasonable, allowing just one unearned run in 5 2/3 innings. He threw just 87 pitches and did not seem happy when removed in the sixth, but he had walked two batters in the inning, with a 5-1 lead. The Jays added six more in the final three innings to win 11-2. Adam Lind had a couple of three-run homers to give him a season-high six RBIs, two shy of his career best set August 31, 2009 at Texas. The Jays turned two more double plays, giving them 13 in the first five games of the road trip.
On Sunday, the Jays completed the sweep and a wildly successful 5-1 road trip, beating the Twins 2-0 behind 7 1/3 three-hit innings by Esmil Rogers, his second straight strong outing. Janssen picked up his 29th save after Sergio Santos had escaped the eighth, lowering his ERA to 2.04.
The Jays did not turn any DPs but the key play came on second baseman Ryan Goins decision, playing at double-play depth, to come to the plate for a tag play on shortstop Pedro Florimon to preserve a scoreless tie in the sixth. There were runners on first and third with nobody out. It was a risky play that paid off when Rogers got a flyball and a grounder to escape any damage.
Canadian lefthander Andrew Albers tossed seven shutout innings for the Twins and was removed with the Jays scoring a pair in the eighth against Jared Burton on an RBI double by Jose Reyes and a single by Davis for all the scoring in the game. Rogers, who has been throwing more two-seam fastballs, won back-to-back starts for the first time since June 13-18.
What ever happened to 100 inning relievers?
It used to be that most teams would have at least one middle reliever that could expect to pitch 100-plus innings out of the bullpen. In 1974, Mike Marshall of the Dodgers made 108 appearances and worked 208 1/3 innings in relief; he won the Cy Young Award. He was one of 14 major-league relievers with more than 100 innings. This year, there will be none to reach the century mark.
When did major-league relievers turn into such wusses? A guy pitches four outs in a game in this era, he may be doubtful the next day. A guy pitches back-to-back days and, oh my, we would like not to have to use him the next day. Three days in a row and he’s definitely out. It seems the better the medical support has become, the more sophisticated the icing, massage, heat, cold, stretch, warm-up, cool-down techniques, the better they have become, the more cautious teams get about their athletes.
The last reliever to throw 100 innings in a season was Scott Proctor of the Yankees in 2006, 102 1/3 innings in 83 games. In fact, since 2000, in 14 seasons, only six pitchers have reached the century mark in relief innings in one season. The list includes: Proctor in ’06; Scot Shields of the Angels in ’04; Steve Sparks of the Tigers/A’s and Guillermo Mota of the Dodgers in ’03 and Scott Sullivan of the Reds in 2000-01.
That’s why teams need so many pitchers on the roster. For nine positions in the lineup, AL teams now carry 13 players. For one position — pitcher — teams have 12 players. The Dodgers in 1974, the season that Marshall shone in relief, used 13 pitchers over 162 games, including just six starters and seven relievers.
The list of 100-inning relievers included: Marshall, John Hiller (150 1/3), Steve Foucault (144 1/3), Stu Barber (139), Terry Forster (134 1/3), Tom Murphy (123 1/3), Bill Campbell (120 1/3), Rollie Fingers (119), Sparky Lyle (114), Diego Segui (108), Chuck Taylor (107 2/3), Ken Forsch (103 1/3), Tom House (102 2/3) and Elias Sosa (101 1/3).
As for Iron Mike Marshall, who had been the Expos player-of-the-year in 1973, for the Dodgers in their pennant-winning year, in 1974, he worked eigtht days in a row once, six days in a row twice, five days in a row three times and four days in a row once. He had 17 saves of more than one inning. While compiling a 15-12 record and 21 saves, Marshall made 74 relief appearances with four or more outs. And he never iced his arm. With a PhD in kinesiology from Michigan State University, Marshall believes that relief pitchers need to throw more, not less.
Stop, thief! Outfielder Billy Hamilton has 395 stolen bases in five minor-league seasons, including a record breaking 155 thefts in 2012 and 75 more this season at the Reds’ Class-AAA team in Louisville.
The Reds are in the middle of a three-team division tussle and recalled Hamilton to be basically a pinch-runner. How effective has Hamilton been? In four games as a pinch-runner he has stolen four bases and scored three runs — two game winners and one that tied a game late. Modern stats seem to downplay the importance of the stolen base, but the Reds take on the Cubs next and Chicgao manager Dale Sveum understands the impact of the newest weapon Dusty Baker brings to Wrigley Field.
‘‘One thing you learn about speed like that, the more you try to stop it, the more bad pitches you throw,’’ Cubs manager Dale Sveum told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘You don’t really stop that kind of speed. Otherwise people would have stopped it. If you want to keep slide stepping (as a pitcher), keeping holding, keep throwing over, the next thing you know you’re giving up a two or three-run homer because you’re so worried about something that has a 99 per cent chance to happen anyway.”
DOWN ON THE FARM
The Jays’ minor-league system is a combined two games above .500. Still alive in the playoffs is Single-A Vancouver in the Northwest League (tied 1-1 in the best of three championship series).
Triple-A Buffalo: (74-70)
Double-A New Hampshire: (68-72)
Single-A Dunedin: (63-68) Blue Jays won the first half title then tanked in second.
Single-A Lansing: (61-78)
Single-A Vancouver (39-36) Second baseman Andy Fermin tripled in the seventh inning at Nat Bailey Stadium driving in two, keying a 4-2 win as the Canadians are tied 1-1 in games with A-Boise for their third straight Northwest League championship in the three-year history of the franchise.
Rookie ball Bluefield: (40-27) Came back from dismal 2012 to make playoffs.
Rookie ball Gulf Coast Jays: (28-32)
Dominican Summer League Jays: (41-29)
THIS DATE IN BASEBALL HISTORY:
Sept. 9: 1988 – Bruce Sutter of the Braves records save No. 300 of his career, joining Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage at that level. All three went on to be in the Hall-of-Fame ... 1977 – For the first time for the Tigers, in the second game of a doubleheader, rookies 2B Lou Whitaker and SS Alan Trammell play together. They team up day in and day out for the Tigers for the next 19 years.
Sept. 10: 1980 – Expos RHP Bill Gullickson fans 18 Cubs in a 4-2 win, setting an MLB record for a rookie ... 1977 – Jays 3B Roy Howell has two homers, two doubles, a single and nine RBIs in a 19-3 win over the Yankees in the club’s first season.
Sept. 11: 2001 – America is attacked by terrorists and baseball shuts down for a week. The game and North American society have never been the same ... 1985 – Pete Rose slaps career hit 4,192 off of Eric Show breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time record on the 57th anniversary of Cobb’s final game in the majors.
Sept. 12: 1993 – Paul Molitor of the Jays reaches 100 RBIs in a season for the first time in his career with a home run vs. the Angels. At 37-years-old he is the oldest to do it for the first time ... 1979 – Carl Yastrzemski collects career hit No. 3,000 vs. Yankees RHP Jim Beattie in a 9-2 Red Sox loss. Beattie is currently a pro scout and assistant to Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays.
Sept. 13: 1991 – A huge chunk of concrete falls off the exterior of Olympic Stadium while we are on a road trip to Chicago. The Expos end up playing the final 26 games of the season on the road, going 13-13. The team flies home for one day on Sept. 16 to do some laundry and re-load on clothes and then hits the road again to New York, Philly, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. They go 1-6 in the last seven games of the 26 games odyssey. I ran out of meal money the first time in Pittsburgh ... 1965 – Willie Mays hits his 500th career HR vs. Don Nottebart ... 1971 – Frank Robinson hits his 500th career HR vs. Fred Scheman.
Sept. 14: 1994 – The remainder of the season and the World Series were cancelled by a vote of ownership ... 1990 – Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey, Jr. hit back to back homers for the M’s vs. Kirk McCaskill of the Angels. It’s an all-time first ... 1987 – The Blue Jays hit 10 HR in a game vs. the O’s, with Ernie Whitt blasting three of them. Cal Ripken ends his consecutive innings streak at 8,243 when Ron Washington replace him at shortstop in the eighth inning.
Sept. 15: 1963 – The three Alou brothers played the Giants outfield at the same time, LF Felipe, CF Matty and RF Jesus ... 1938 – Lloyd and Paul Waner hit back to back homers for the Pirates off Bill Melton of the Giants, marking the only time brothers have accomplished that feat.
MLB POWER RANKINGS
(as of Sept. 8)
Ranking, team, Last Week-Start of Spring
1. Boston Red Sox 1-16
2. Detroit Tigers 4-7
3. Atlanta Braves 2-2
4. Oakland A’s 6-8
5. St. Louis Cardinals 7-13
6. Texas Rangers 9-6
7. Los Angeles Dodgers 3-5
8. Cincinnati Reds 10-9
9. Pittsburgh Pirates 8-28
10. Cleveland Indians 11-20
11. Tampa Bay Rays 5-10
12. Baltimore Orioles 13-11
13. Kansas City Royals 14-18
14. New York Yankees 12-14
15. Washington Nationals 15-4
16. Arizona Diamondbacks 16-17
17. Los Angeles Angels 17-12
18. Philadelphia Phillies 18-15
19. Toronto Blue Jays 21-3
20. New York Mets 19-27
21. Seattle Mariners 22-21
22. Colorado Rockies 20-25
23. San Diego Padres 24-23
24. San Francisco Giants 25-1
25. Milwaukee Brewers 26-22
26. Minnesota Twins 23-26
27. Chicago Cubs 27-24
28. Miami Marlins 28-29
29. Chicago White Sox 29-19
30. Houston Astros 30-30
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
While the Blue Jays were out of town in Phoenix and Minneapolis, two of my favorite cities on the road, I stayed close to home, taking care of some personal business. It was an unusual week in town in many ways. On Friday, I made an appearance on the Bryan Hayes afternoon show on TSN on the patio at Gabby’s restaurant on King St. W. The TIFF hubbub made the scene crazy.
An entire block of King had been cordoned off by police and TIFF Security was in full force in front of a theatre that on the marquee was to be screening a George Clooney opus called Gravity — but it wasn’t even for that night and already there were dozens of women of a certain age lined up behind police barricades on the south side of the street. Actors are way bigger than athletes.
I know because I have been mistaken for members of both groups through the years. However the excitement was far frothier from women when they thought I might be actor Nick Nolte (mug shots), Gary Busey (mug shots), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Mickey Rourke (Barfly), Kenny Rogers (The Gambler) or Kris Kristofferson (A Star is Born) rather than baseball players Larry Parrish, Jeff Reardon, Steve Rogers or Bryn Smith, Expos that sported beards and rode the same buses as me.
In any case, as I marvelled at the downtown excitement caused by TIFF, I tried to put together a list of my all-time favourite baseball movies. It was tough, but here they are.
1. Field of Dreams: Not as much a baseball movie as it is an allegory on relationships and family. I have seen it a dozen times and can never get through the scene with Kevin Costner and his father without leaving the room, if my sons are there.
2. Bull Durham: Another Costner movie that recreates life in the minor leagues, with the transient nature of friendships, and broken dreams in a funny and sad way. One of the highlights of my summer has been the Blue Jays bullpen re-enacting the famous Costner speech to Susan Sarandon.
3. Major League: For anyone that ever loved the Expos, this Charlie Sheen movie about ownership trying to torpedo their own franchise, in this case the Indians, hits home. The best memory is the night after the ’89 earthquke in San Francisco, I took a cab to a bar at the Golden Triangle that boasted its own generator, a cooler full of iced down beer and a big screen TV that showed Major League starting at the exact time Game 3 should have been getting underway at Candlestick. Cool.
4. Bang the Drum Slowly: Kind of a schmaltzy plot, but a young Robert DeNiro, Michael Moriarty and Danny Aiello makes this memorable. Besides, it was released in 1973 — the year I started in major-league baseball — and made a lifetime impression. If you have a chance, see it.
5. The Natural: As close to a Shakespearian drama as a baseball movie can get. Robert Redford plays the tragic hero with a woman spurned and a true love, all the ingredients. The home run with the exploding light standard is classic, even if a little hokey. But Gene Kirby, the former traveling secretary of the Expos and a radio producer with CBS and Dixxy Dean in the 60s worked on the film in the areas of authenticity and it was shot in Buffalo, which makes it special.