TORONTO - The remaking of Ricky Romero involved an investment of time, patience and hard work. It required the one-time ace to buy in; to believe there was a problem only an overhaul of his delivery could solve.
"At the beginning it's tough to see, to realize, that okay what is it that I need to work on," said Romero. "It took me a couple of days, I had so much anger and so much disappointment because I prepared myself so good in the offseason to kind of be ready for spring training that I was disappointed in myself."
Once the initial shock of his March 26 demotion wore off, Romero struck up a working relationship with Blue Jays' roving pitching instructor Dane Johnson, with whom he would spend hours each day for more than a month.
Johnson, a no-nonsense type, didn't mince words.
"From day one Dane told me, you're either going to commit to this or you're not and if you don't then who knows what's going to happen with you," said Romero. "When he told me that, when he sat me down and told me that, it was just time to work and that's what I did."
Each morning, 9:30 to be precise, Romero would meet with Johnson. For up to five hours daily the two worked, including poring over old video.
"I went back to 2005-2006," said Johnson. "I broke out the analog equipment down in Dunedin. It was hard to get but we got those tapes; not necessarily implementing those tapes. We saw an explosive young kid at that particular time who got out over the front side and threw the ball with real good extension. That reminded me of a lot of things and reminded him of a lot of things when he got into his throwing programs of what he could do and what he has to do. We did look at 2011, obviously, those were good years and we took some of those things, made sure that we were staying as good and solid as we can on the foundation we're going to throw off of."
Romero learned to pay increased attention to his throwing program. The simple act of playing catch, on flat ground, became an exercise in intense repetition. Johnson forced Romero to focus on how he moved his feet; to track his arm path downward rather than side to side; to ensure proper weight transfer, in a straight line, from back side to front side.
"Actually they came pretty quick because number one he's a smart guy, number two he's a good athlete, number three he's a pro and when he realized himself that 'Hey, I do (have) to do these things to be able to go ahead and be effective and throw strikes to home plate,' it started the flow a little bit for him," said Johnson. "He saw the progress; we had little victories along the way as far as his simulated games, his sides, his batting practices. He saw the results of those, he took them into his games, he repeated it and he reaped the benefits of it."
As Romero's numbers turned for the worse, his confidence went with them. He had career bests in 2011, 15 wins and a 2.92 ERA; last season he had a career-worst nine victories and a 5.77 ERA.
The demotion hurt Romero's pride but no more than did the struggle of 2012. He can be unforgiving of himself, his body language a telltale sign, and the Blue Jays have worked with him on how to manage his own expectations.
"That's what makes some of the competitors great," said Johnson. "They're always hard on themselves, they're always pushing and expect perfection from themselves. We try to drill into Ricky, we know you're not going to be perfect but let's get it as best as we possibly can and don't let those imperfections bother you to the fact that it's affecting the way that you approach the hitter."
Johnson, whose role requires him to travel to the club's different minor league affiliates, hadn't left Dunedin until Romero's recall. Typically by early May, Johnson says, he'd have travelled seven or eight times.
"It's going to be the same Ricky," said Johnson. "He's the same guy. I'd like to think that we would take what's best of that guy and try to polish it up as best we possibly could. We didn't reinvent him, we just took what was missing probably and implemented it and got back to the basics of what needs to happen in a delivery."
"We've busted our butts the past month and nothing's been taken for granted," said Romero. "Obviously I expect better results out of myself and hopefully we're able to just build on this."