DUNEDIN, Florida - Like a puzzle, the Blue Jays are trying to piece Ricky Romero back together. Talk has centered on his physical health – his worrisome knees – and his emotional state when faced with adversity. Now, the focus shifts to his pitching mechanics.
Romero, 28, will pitch Thursday in a minor league game at the Bobby Mattick Complex. Watching will be pitching coach Pete Walker, who's asked the left-hander to better follow through to the end of his delivery.
"Just trying to get him a little more directional towards home plate," said Walker. "He's been a little across his body. It's an adjustment that he's made over the past week or so and I think it's something he needs to do. He's been committed to it and I think it's going to help him in the long run."
The adjustment is multi-pronged. First, Romero is now toeing the centre of the rubber – he had been working from the first base side – to give him a straighter line to home plate.
Second, Romero is working to square his hips to the plate on the follow through to keep his arm from coming across his body and to prevent himself from being too upright when he finishes his motion.
The mechanical issues became more pronounced during Romero's disastrous 2012 season but may have begun earlier.
"Even in 2011 he had a very good year and he was across his body a little bit," said Walker. "I just think it became a little more evident last year and I think we're at the point now where, he's going to be around here for a while, and I think for his long-term health it's important for him to make this adjustment. He's made it very easy in the side sessions, now it's a matter of doing it in the games."
Romero has put in time with Walker and bullpen coach Pat Hentgen breaking down video. These are the many minutes, hours, that go in to trying to rebuild a career so stunningly gone off track.
Romero can see what he needs to do, can simulate what must be done. The challenge is to replicate the motion during a game. Romero, by his own account and that of Walker's, had a great warm-up prior to his last start on Friday against Detroit. Once the game began, however, Romero walked two of the first three hitters he faced, including Miguel Cabrera.
"Once you get out there the competitive nature takes over and you can't be thinking about it, you have to let your athleticism take over," said Romero. "In the bullpen and whenever I'm on my own with no ball I exaggerate (the motion) and just try to do it as perfect as I can. Obviously during the game, in the middle of the competition, you're going to shift over a little bit but the more you get that muscle memory under control the better I'm going to be."
Speculation is rampant about Romero's status in the Blue Jays' rotation. The organization has him slotted as the fifth starter; the leash is long. He will be given ample opportunity to show that 2012 was the exception, not the rule. Crucial to Romero's return to form will be his power sinker, which when effective dives in on right-handed hitters. Of late, it's either been catching too much of the plate or none of the plate at all.
"It's not a huge adjustment for him otherwise we wouldn't be doing it right now," said Walker, explaining the new focus so close to opening day. "It's an adjustment I think he can make and I think he's very confident he can make and it's only going to help him out being a little more consistent."
MORE FROM THE PITCHING COACH
Casey Janssen (shoulder) emerged healthy from Sunday's one-inning performance in a minor league game. He will pitch, again, in a minor league game on Wednesday. If he feels good on Thursday, he'll take the day off and could find his way in to Friday's game against Boston.
Walker said Janssen will have to show the ability to pitch on consecutive days if he's to break camp with the Blue Jays.
Meantime, Dustin McGowan (shoulder) continues to progress and will throw in a minor league game on Wednesday. The Blue Jays don't have a timeline for his return.
- Josh Johnson (67 pitches,) R.A. Dickey (27 pitches) and Darren Oliver (28 pitches) each threw in minor league games on Tuesday.
Tuesday was a normal bullpen day for Dickey, who last pitched on Thursday for the United States in the World Baseball Classic. Dickey prefers to face live hitting when possible; he's scheduled to pitch a full minor league game on Friday.
- The Blue Jays' Dominican contingent will be watching the World Baseball Classic championship game on Tuesday night. The Dominicans play Puerto Rico in San Francisco.
"They're the best and I hope for the next time they make the Classic I'll be there," said reliever Esmil Rogers. "I look at how they play, they play so good, I try to follow them every game when they play. I know in the Dominican, people are crazy right now."
Rogers was on the initial roster but declined the invite when he was traded to the Blue Jays.
- The Blue Jays play the Orioles for the fifth and final time this spring on Wednesday in Sarasota.
Jeremy Jeffress, competing for the long role in the bullpen, will stretch out to three innings. Dave Bush will pitch four innings, followed by Guillermo Moscoso. Moscoso, 29, was claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals on Saturday.