Former ace Ricky Romero faces challenges as fifth starter

Ricky Romero delivers a pitch.
Ricky Romero must adjust to moving to the #5 spot in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation. (Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire)

Amid all of the hype of the Toronto Blue Jays’ offseason moves, Ricky Romero could quietly prove to be an important component in the newly formed starting rotation. Deep talent on the mound and lots of power at the plate means the Jays should enjoy more than their fair share of wins this season. The Jays’ former ace, Romero, will round out an impressive starting five if he can move past last year’s forgettable season, avoid further injury and adapt to his new role out of the top slot.

After bursting onto the big league scene in 2009 with an impressive 13-9 record, Ricky Romero showed a lot of promise in a struggling Blue Jays organization. In 2010, Romero went 14-9 and pitched over 200 innings. He pitched second in the rotation behind the sure hand of Shaun Marcum. It was 2011, however, that proved to be Romero’s breakout season. Romero went 15-11 in the ever-difficult AL East and delivered a stunning 2.92 ERA, 1.138 WHIP. Romero posted a 6.2 WAR and was selected along with Jose Bautista, who was coming off of his own well-documented breakout year, to represent the Jays at the All-Star game in Arizona.

But in 2012, the wheels fell off.

The 2012 Blue Jays starting rotation had a dismal year. Brandon Morrow had a decent first half of the season and was promptly sidelined with a strained oblique, before returning briefly at the end of the season. Kyle Drabek felt a pop in his elbow and was sidelined for Tommy John surgery. Rookie starter Drew Hutchison also underwent Tommy John surgery, and both he and Drabek remain questionable for 2013. Henderson Alvarez was out for a while after getting hit by a ball. Dustin McGowan didn’t pitch at all in 2012 due to shoulder clean-up and lingering plantar fasciitis. Brett Cecil struggled to find his rhythm after losing over 30 pounds in the offseason. Cecil bounced between Toronto and triple-A Las Vegas while trying to get his arm back.

That’s just a list of the starters; the Jays had injury problems elsewhere, too — Sergio Santos, Luis Perez, Bautista, Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind all spent time on the DL during  a 2012 season that got progressively more discouraging every week.

By the end of the 2012 season, the Jays’ starting rotation was a hashed together mix of J.A. Happ, Aaron Laffey, Carlos Villanueva, and Chad Jenkins.

The one man who managed to stay healthy through it all was Ricky Romero, but even a perpetual strikeout man like Romero couldn’t keep it together. Romero went 9-14 for the first losing season in his career, and recorded a high ERA of 5.77. He threw only 124 strikeouts for the season, the lowest of his career, and 105 walks, the highest of his career. Romero posted a WAR of -1.7 in 2012.While he managed to stay off the DL, there seemed to be points where we all wished he would take a week off and regroup. The added pressure of being a healthy starter and the ace of the ball club surely didn’t help Romero throughout the season.

In October, it was revealed Romero had been battling some soreness in his elbow for most of the 2012 season, and he underwent arthroscopic surgery in his throwing arm to clean up the elbow. Now that spring training has started, it has been revealed that Romero is also battling some knee issues. He’s been getting injections in both knees to relieve discomfort when throwing and, for some, putting his season in jeopardy.

As of now, Romero’s season is still a question mark, but the Jays are in the enviable position of having J.A. Happ available to fill the fifth slot if Romero is sidelined by a knee injury. Given last year’s injury abomination through the ranks, it’s a welcome change to have a sixth starter available.

As it stands now, the Jays’ starting rotation will look something like this:

  • R.A Dickey – reining NL Cy Young knuckleballer will be the number-one guy for the Jays this season
  • Brandon Morrow – coming off an injury-plagued 2012 where he still managed a 10-7 record and 2.96 ERA
  • Josh Johnson – two-time All-Star and 2010 NL pitching title winner
  • Mark Buehrle – four-time All-Star and Gold Glove pitcher the last four years
  • Ricky Romero – former Jays ace, relegated to the fifth slot

Newly acquired talent has pushed the former Jays’ ace down to the fifth slot in the starting rotation. This is a big deal, and it remains to be seen how Romero deals with giving up his position as the go-to guy at the top of the rotation. In some respects, it could be a welcome change for Romero, taking the pressure off of him could make him a better pitcher and bring him back to his All-Star caliber numbers.

Best-case scenario for the Jays in 2013 would be Ricky Romero returning to his 2010-2011 form. There’s no doubt the rest of the rotation has immense talent, and Romero still has the potential to round out a solid starting five for the Jays. Happ will remain in Buffalo with the triple-A affiliate until the injury demon rears its head, allowing the Jays to maintain a respectable rotation. If Ricky can avoid any further knee and elbow problems and adjust to the number-five slot the Jays should be poised for success in the upcoming season.

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