LAKELAND, Florida - Ricky Romero slugged through his latest outing on Friday, leaving behind a familiar scorecard, having stared down the meat grinder that is the Detroit Tigers' lineup.
Afterward, he then professed a new, more positive approach.
"(It) got better," said Romero of his outing. "I'm going to take the positives out of this. I'm not going to sit here and talk about the stuff that went wrong. I think it's time that I start looking at the positives. I made some good pitches in some big situations.
Romero's line in the Blue Jays' 4-2 loss to Detroit: Three innings, three earned runs, five hits, two walks, four strikeouts.
There were no fewer questions about what 2013 will bring for the one-time ace; there also were no additional answers. There was a "stay with me" plea from Romero to skeptical fans and onlookers.
"I'm confident that I'm going to be back to the guy that everyone is used to seeing," said Romero. "I'm very confident and (there are) a lot of things that are positive about today and that's just what I'll stick to."
The game's first four batters seemed a microcosm of Romero's year-old issues: Walk, strikeout, walk, strikeout. A down, followed by an up, followed by a down and you get the picture. He struggled with his power sinker, put himself in a tough position but wiggled out of the first inning with only one run against, which felt like an escape.
"He was taking too much time, that first inning," said manager John Gibbons. "We always talk about Buehrle, how he gets in and throws it. You've got to develop a rhythm. I thought he was better the next couple of innings but no question, he struggled in that first."
"Sometimes feeling too good can get me in a little bit of trouble," said Romero. "I start jumping out there and jumping toward the hitter instead of staying back and staying in my delivery. It's a work in progress, I'm not hitting the panic button (although) I'm sure a lot of people are but stay with me."
Romero was efficient in the second, sandwiching a Jhonny Peralta solo home run inside three batters retired. The first two hitters reached in the third, the first scoring on an error by shortstop Lance Zawadzki, before Romero induced a double play groundball from Victor Martinez to end the inning.
Romero didn't throw his scheduled fourth inning because he'd hit his limit of 60 pitches.
Complicating broader matters is the sterling spring performance of J.A. Happ, who's looked efficient while posting a 1.93 ERA in four starts. Happ is angry about the likelihood he'll be starting the season at Triple-A Buffalo, proclaiming "I'm a major league starting pitcher" whenever asked about his situation.
Still, the fifth starter's spot is Romero's to lose and he won't lose it this spring. Romero has at least April, likely longer, to return to form. He is working with earned currency, most notably each of his first three big league seasons in which he won at least 13 games. Remember, too, Romero's best season came right before his worst – he won a career-high 15 games and sported a 2.92 ERA in 2011.
"Everything's going to get so looked at and dissected from, I don't know, whatever it is that you guys find," said Romero. "But I'm not worried about that. If I have an outing where I give up a lot of runs, so be it. It doesn't count yet and I'll be ready when the bell rings."
Romero has spoken to fellow left-handers, and veterans, Mark Buehrle and Darren Oliver. Buehrle, who says walking hitters "bugs the crap" out of him, has challenged Romero to cut down the bases on balls. Oliver, entering his 20th season and whose major league debut came when Romero was eight years old, has encouraged Romero to move past bad innings and poor outings more quickly.
Discussing his struggles with teammates and with coaches Pete Walker and Pat Hentgen is a new practice.
"I've been a little bit more open," said Romero. "More talking about it and just through their experiences and through what I'm experiencing and they say it's just (having) confidence."
Gibbons is still getting to know Romero, understanding what makes him tick. He's hard enough on himself; it's more likely Romero needs a pat on the back than he does the proverbial kick in the rear.
"Anytime anybody is out there on the field and going through struggles, you feel for him because most of us have been through them before," said Gibbons. "They're all different, they all need different things, some of them need a kick, some of them need a pat on the back and some of them you just need to get away from them. That's our job to figure out who it is and what it takes for that guy."
Time will tell if Romero's overt positivity translates to the return to pre-2012 form. His knees hurt, thank tendinitis for the pain, his elbow is surgically repaired and his mindset is, at best, to be determined.
"Some guys never get over that," said Gibbons of the mental grind of baseball. "That's why you see a lot of good ones come and go. Basically, what it comes down to is you've got to believe in yourself, trust what you're doing and live with the results."
- Reliever Brad Lincoln should return to Grapefruit League action by early next week at the latest. Lincoln, competing for a bullpen job, had some tenderness in his throwing shoulder after his last appearance on March 9 against Detroit.
- Tigers skipper Jim Leyland - he of the 1,676 career victories over 21 seasons managing Pittsburgh, Florida, Colorado and Detroit - believes talk about clubhouse chemistry is overrated.
"No, I don't believe in that philosophy," said Leyland when asked about the need to build cohesion following the Blue Jays' offseason moves. "They'll be fine. They'll get along good. When they win games, they'll have a great clubhouse like all the rest of us. If they don't win, their clubhouse won't be very good. If they do win, their clubhouse will be one of the best you ever saw. All that s---. They should win a lot of games so they should have a happy clubhouse."
How does he feel about the decision to bring John Gibbons back as manager?
"I'm thrilled to death about that and I'll tell you why," said Leyland. "To guys like me, that means something because here's a guy that managed in the big leagues, coached, got let go, went down to Double-A and managed last year. That showed me a whole lot. That really showed me something and I'm just thrilled to death. And other than that, they loaded their team, they really did. They should be really good."
Leyland, 68, has managed three teams to World Series appearances, winning with the 1997 Marlins and losing with the Tigers in 2006 and 2012.
- The Blue Jays host Baltimore, Saturday in Dunedin and visit Houston in Kissimmee on Sunday. J.A. Happ (1-0, 1.93 ERA in four spring starts) will start for Toronto, Saturday, on a 75-pitch limit. Right-hander Jake Arrieta (0-0, 4.05 ERA) gets the ball.