LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ricky Romero's comeback bid hit another road bump Tuesday in an ugly 18-4 Jays loss to a Detroit Tigers split squad.
The plan was for Romero and Marcus Stroman to combine for nine innings, with none of Toronto's established bullpen members along for the ride. Instead the Tigers had their way with Romero, Jeremy Jeffress, Stroman and Marcus Walden.
How bad was the Jays' day? Romero had a dismal outing and he was long gone before the Tigers put up nine runs in the fifth inning for a 13-0 lead.
The Jays issued 11 walks and were outhit 17-6 by Detroit in three hours and 28 minutes of spring training torment. Reading Detroit's linescore was like dialling Moscow: 02119302.
"Today all the way around it was just a bad day, every phase of the game," said Toronto manager John Gibbons. "I'll let that one go. I've got nothing to say. Tough for me to analyze. You were watching what I was watching."
Several questions later, Gibbons did offer some analysis.
"It just shows you if you don't pitch, it's tough to play," he said.
Romero gave up a two-run homer to Austin Jackson in the second after hitting a Tiger to put him on base and yielded another run in an unsightly third inning that featured a triple, four walks and two wild pitches. It could have been far worse, but two Tigers were caught stealing in the inning.
The left-hander exited after 2 2/3 innings, giving way to Jeffress after yielding three runs on three hits with five walks, a hit batsman and two wild pitches. Unofficially Romero threw 57 pitches, 23 for strikes on a sunny 20-degree day with 8,328 on hand at scenic Joker Marchant Stadium.
"We've taken too many steps forward to dwell on this," Romero said philosophically afterwards.
Romero and Jeffress walked eight between them in the first four innings. Asked afterwards if Romero would get another start, Gibbons opted not to answer. But he did note Romero's earlier improved outings.
"I'm encouraged. I've seen it. So he can still build off that," he said.
Likely in the minor leagues again, however.
Things continued to fall apart when Stroman gave up a walk, four singles, a double and a grand slam homer to Don Kelly in a fifth inning that went from bad to worse. It took Stroman, a first-round pick in the 2012 draft, seven batters to record an out in the inning.
Walden, a fellow minor-leaguer, took over and the onslaught continued as Ian Kinsler slammed a three-homer over the left-field fence.
Jeffress walked three and struck out two while giving up an unearned run in 1 1/3 inning. Stroman got one out, at the expense of six hits and seven earned runs. Walden gave up five earned runs on six hits in 1 1/3 innings.
While Romero suffered a meltdown on the mound, Toronto bats were quiet against Tigers starter Drew Smyly. Melky Cabrera, with a single and double, and Colby Rasmus (walk) were the only Jays to get on base in Smyly's five innings.
Toronto finally got on the board in the sixth inning with four runs against reliever Blaine Hardy. And the scoreboard kept ticking with Detroit adding three in the sixth and two in the eighth.
Randy Boone and Justin Jackson also pitched for Toronto.
Romero had seemed to be writing a story with a happier ending this spring. He came into Tuesday's game having given up one run in seven innings for an ERA of 1.29 in three appearances that saw him strike out six and walk five.
"The big talk of camp right now is Ricky Romero," Gibbons said last Thursday. "It looks like he's on the way back, and that's what excites us all."
Romero had limited the Tampa Bay Rays to one run in four innings in his last outing with two of those innings clinical 1-2-3 affairs.
Tuesday was his first start of the spring and it went south after a first inning that saw him give up a leadoff single but get it back with a double play.
Romero gave up three runs on three hits, walking five with no strikeouts. He had two wild pitches and hit a batsman. Three Tiger base-running errors limited the damage.
Romero said he wasn't following through on his delivery, for some reason, and had trouble with his off-speed pitches.
"It's a bad outing," he said. "I've had three good outings. It happens as a pitcher ... My head's up. It's just a bad day."
While saying he didn't want to make excuses, Romero somewhat strangely referred to a "weird weather day" in noting "the balls were a little slick and just kept coming out of my hand."
Romero was an all-star in 2011 when he went 15-11 with a 2.92 earned-run average. In 2012, he slumped to 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA and things got worse in 2013, when he saw action in just four games in the majors with an 0-2 record and 11.05 ERA.
The 29-year-old Los Angeles native spent most of last season in the minors where he went 5-8 with 5.52 ERA.
A non-roster invitee this spring, Romero is due to make US$7.75 million both this season and next.
Also Tuesday, left-hander Mark Buehrle and right-hander Brandon Morrow faced each other in an intra-squad game at the Jays' minor-league complex.
Morrow threw 3 2/3 innings with four hits, two runs (both earned), two walks and two strikeouts on 63 pitches. Buehrle went 4 1/3 innings with five hits, three runs (two earned), two walks and three strikeouts on 81 pitches.
NOTES -- Tigers star Miguel Cabrera was part of the lineup playing the Mets .... Former Jay Rajai Davis was an injury scratch (hamstring) Tuesday.