DUNEDIN, Florida – Could it be?
With the Blue Jays' failure to land Ervin Santana and the continuing spring struggles, to varying degrees, of Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond and J.A. Happ, Ricky Romero's name is being brought up on an increasing basis. It's getting lumped in with that large group competing for a job in the starting rotation.
Manager John Gibbons was effusive about Romero's Wednesday performance, in which the former ace lefthander allowed one run over four innings of work.
"All he's got to do is get it in the zone," said Gibbons. "That ball is moving every which way too. It's tough to square him up. If he gets in the zone, he makes them swing, you add that great changeup on top of that, that's where he's had his success. Where he ran into trouble he was just scattering it. He was walking guys, things like that. He's getting in the zone now and that's the key."
Baby steps, though. Romero did walk two batters and hit another. He was the beneficiary of a beautifully turned double play and of an outfield assist on a base hit by Jose Bautista, who threw out a runner at third.
If Romero was to land the starting job, at this moment it seems remote, the Jays would likely begin the season with an eight-man bullpen. The fact Romero isn't on the 40-man roster works against him, performance over the last two seasons aside, but he is owed at least $15.6-million over the remaining term on his contract and the Jays would love to get some value for it.
Romero has simplified his approach.
"Like I've told Kratz and Thole, the guys who have caught me the last two times, just set up down the middle and stuff will move," he said. "I feel like I'm getting that movement back with the changeup and the sinker. There are going to be times when I come out of my delivery a little bit but I think the good thing now is that I'm realizing when I'm coming out of it. It's just slowing myself back down and my delivery is going to be key, just finding that rhythm."
One noticeable difference from last season: when Romero talks about feeling good, feeling confident, his eyes and his body language emit the same. That hasn't been the case.
"I definitely feel like it's in the right direction and how can you not," said Romero. "Everything I've been through, this feels good. I'm not going to get ahead of myself or anything like that but it's taking it day by day and working. I think if I do that, just continue to work, work, and see the little wins each and every day and remain positive I think I'm going to be just fine. The rest will take care of itself."
It's a long road back to being the 15-game winner from 2011 and Romero may never regain his All-Star form. But he's trying. His manager hopes the crisis of confidence is a thing of the past.
"Some guys never rebound from it," said manager John Gibbons. "What he's done here this spring, we noticed it, first started noticing it, just warming up in the bullpen, just throwing their sides and in BP, before we even started playing games, he looked different. We're all pulling for him here."
McGowan feeling better
Dustin McGowan threw two scoreless innings in Thursday's 7-5 loss to the Astros.
It was his first game action in 10 days thanks to a stomach bug. It was the same illness that affected Sergio Santos earlier this month.
"I lost eight (pounds,) exactly, too," said McGowan. "I think it's the eight pound flu or whatever it was. Next time Sergio needs to stay home."
After years of battling shoulder problems, McGowan made 25 appearances out of the bullpen last season, posting a 2.45 ERA while striking out, essentially, one hitter per inning pitched.
He's stretching out this spring, longing to be a starter once more. He felt no side effects from his sickness-induced layoff.
"I felt good," said McGowan. "For me, that's the most important thing is feeling good. Pitches are starting to come around and location is starting to get better so it's a positive outing today for me."
McGowan seems to understand the unlikelihood that he'll end up in the rotation, admitting "It's hard to say in my head I'm going to be a starter but that's where I want to be."
Still, he'll continue to try to pitch deeper into games.
"I'll keep going this path but if I'm at four innings by the end of spring, if they want me in the bullpen that's easy to transfer right into," he said. "If you throw one or two, you're ready for it easily."
Has he gained the eight pounds back he lost while sick?
"You don't see this," joked McGowan, pointing to his stomach. "I've got it."