LAKELAND, Florida – That Ricky Romero's name was even being mentioned as a possibility for the last remaining spot in the Blue Jays' rotation is an indication of the uncertainty surrounding the club's starting corps less than two weeks before opening day.
The above paragraph could be rewritten, verbatim, with Marcus Stroman's name in place of Romero's.
After both men had disastrous outings in Tuesday's 18-4 mauling at the hands of the Tigers, it's clear that neither is the best option to begin the season in Toronto.
What's also clear is that it isn't clear who the best option is to join R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and, presumably, Drew Hutchison in a rotation that last season posted baseball's second-worst starting staff ERA (4.81.)
Romero and Stroman were outsiders at best to break camp with the big league club and for different reasons. There had been cautious optimism surrounding Romero, the reclamation project, who had been showing some signs of emerging from his two-year funk.
Stroman, meanwhile, is a projected future star and rotation cornerstone who, along with Drew Hutchison and Aaron Sanchez, has the coaching staff salivating. Given the mediocre-to-subpar performances of J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond this spring, there's been some consideration, however small, given to handing Stroman a rotation spot. After all, how much lesser of an option is he than any of the others?
Romero, scheduled to go four or five innings on Tuesday depending on pitch count, instead went two-and-two-thirds, allowing three runs on three hits, a home run, five walks, a hit batter and two wild pitches. It could have been worse. Romero picked off two of his walks and another was caught stealing.
Only 23 of Romero's 57 pitches were strikes. He acknowledged falling behind in counts and not following through in his delivery but also took a shot at Mother Nature.
"It was a weird weather day, too," said Romero. "The balls were a little slick and it just kept coming out of my hand and whatnot, but I tried to battle."
The game time temperature was 20-celcius. It was a sunny day. There was a breeze, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Romero also admitted to being too amped up.
"I was a little excited," he said. "I think just getting a start and whatnot, that was the first start I've had since the Triple-A season ended last year. It was a little different, just trying to get used to it again."
"Not enough strikes," said manager John Gibbons. "Today, all the way around, it was just a bad day in every phase of the game. Let that one go. I've got nothing to say. It's tough for me to analyze that. You were watching what I was watching. You analyze it."
While there's no doubt the Blue Jays would enjoy getting some kind of return on the $15.6-million still owed Romero through the end of next season, his name started coming up as a rotation option only after general manager Alex Anthopoulos failed to sign Ervin Santana, a non-move which seems to become more glaring by the day.
Gibbons wouldn't commit to whether Romero would get another start.
"This one's over," said Gibbons. "It was a bad day all the way around."
Stroman was supposed to follow Romero and pitch four or five innings. He recorded only one out before being pulled in the fifth, giving up seven runs on five hits with a walk and a strikeout.
"Not enough strikes," said Gibbons. It's pretty simple."
Toronto pitchers combined to walk 11 on the afternoon.
The Blue Jays need someone to step up, pitch well and take the final rotation spot. Time is running out before the job is awarded to someone by default.
It's J.A. Happ's turn next. He starts on Wednesday, in Dunedin, against the Phillies.
MORROW vs. BUEHRLE IN INTRASQUAD GAME
Brandon Morrow, who's being strongly considered to pitch the home opener on April 4 against the Yankees, making him the "fifth" starter, squared off against Mark Buehrle in an intrasquad game in Dunedin on Tuesday.
Morrow, who missed the final four months of last season with an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm, has struggled with fastball command this spring. In three-and-two-thirds innings, he allowed two runs on four hits, walking two and striking out two. Morrow threw 63 pitches; his fastball ranged in the low-to-mid 90s.
"I was getting ahead, throwing it where I wanted to," said Morrow. "I think I had a couple looking strikeouts on it. All in all, it was a good day. I felt really good with my curveball. Slider and split could've been better, but I made some good pitches with those too."
Buehrle threw four-and-third innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on five hits (including home runs by Erik Kratz and Kenny Wilson) and two walks. He struck out three and threw 81 pitches.
JANSSEN THROWS LIVE BATTING PRACTICE
Casey Janssen faced live hitters for the first time since late February. He threw live batting practice on Tuesday morning in Dunedin.
"Another step in the right direction," said Janssen. "Got the heart pumping a little bit, which was nice. I'm sure Friday's going to be more of the same, hopefully a little bit more in the velocity department, just because there'll be defenders behind me."
Barring the unforeseen, Janssen is scheduled to appear in his first Grapefruit League game on Friday when the Blue Jays visit the Rays in Port Charlotte.
On Tuesday, Janssen threw his fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He didn't throw his cut fastball.
Janssen has been kept out of spring games due to soreness in the back of his right shoulder. The pain is unrelated to his offseason shoulder surgery of a year ago and the discomfort it caused last year.
DETERMINING LIND'S ROLE
Adam Lind got the start against Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly on Tuesday as the club works toward determining whether he'll be a strict platoon player this season.
"I always can hit lefties; I just can't hit the Cy Young lefties," said Lind. "I can't tell you how many people probably hit David Price well or Jon Lester well or CC (Sabathia) well but unfortunately all those guys are in the same division. It's the beauty of playing in this division. You know where you're at as a baseball player."
Lind's career splits don't lie. He's hit right-handers at a .286 BA/.850 OPS clip and hits a home run about once in every 20 at-bats. Against left-handers, the number dwindles to .219BA/.603 OPS with a home run in 2.6-percent of his at-bats.
Right-handed hitting Moises Sierra, who's out of options, is the top candidate at the moment to take those at-bats against lefties. The Jays are still trying to figure out the plan.
"He's been swinging it pretty good against some pretty good lefties this spring," said manager John Gibbons. "We'll just see where it goes from there. It all stacks up right now, and Sierra's that guy, he would face some of the lefties. But, I think, Lindy and (hitting coach Kevin) Seitzer have been working on an approach to face those lefties and let's see where that takes us."
Lind succeeded in his goal of staying off the disabled list last season. He'd missed time with a bad back in each of the previous two years.
Last offseason, Lind turned to yoga. He enjoyed it and felt that it helped so he took it up a notch this past winter.
"I went personal yoga instructor this year," said Lind. "It was nice. She got to know my body and we got a little more specific instead of just having a class with 20 people in it. She would correct me if I was in the wrong positions and things like that. It was nice to have someone to be there just for me."
The Blue Jays will employ a yoga instructor to conduct a session on a weekly basis in an effort to curb the number of muscle-related injuries. Lind likes the benefits.
"I loved it," he said. "I'll continue to do it even when I'm done playing. The way it makes you feel when you walk out of that classroom, you really get away. There's so much more into it, I'm just doing the physical part of it. I'm not lost in the yoga world just yet."