When Ricky Romero came out in his first start of the spring throwing sinkers, nobody had any idea that’s what he was doing. The team certainly didn’t announce it to the world, and I suspect would hardly have made mention of it had it not been for the questions raised by his sluggish velocity and imprecise command. Had the results been better the sinker experiment may still have come up in the course of the day’s reporting, but for lack of a better term, the way it was offered was as an excuse.
And, magical space daddy’s honest truth, at the time that was fine. Here’s what I wrote following the game, which I witnessed first-hand in Dunedin:
It’s hard not to, but I think it would be slightly cruel of me to put Ricky Romero’s effort on the day down in the “ugly” category, especially since it’s still damn February, and his struggles are supposedly due to the fact that he was trying to throw sinkers– a pitch he went away from considerably in 2012, as Brandon Morrow supposedly pointed out to him, via Brooks Baseball. Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press, via the Globe and Mail says as much in his piece on the lacklustre outing, though the Globe’s own Jeff Blair gives a slightly different take, seeming as though he’s trying to pull back from the edge of sounding too many alarms, but evoking 2012 Brett Cecil and the “it’s early, everything is fine” song and dance that went along with his spring struggles a year ago. Of course, it is too early to portend doom for anybody, but rather than divert us from a simple sub-par outing, my sense is that the flimsy excuse-making coming from the Jays probably makes us focus undue attention on a relatively meaningless spring debut. Because, I tell you what, I was sitting directly pretty behind the plate, and if Romero was throwing sinkers all day, by the end they sure as shit weren’t sinking– they weren’t real close to the strike zone either, from my vantage. I can buy that explanation for the lack of velocity for now, but for me it’s certainly going to put more scrutiny on his next outing, not less. Though I guess that was inevitable anyway.
Since then things haven’t exactly gotten back on track. The comparisons to Cecil’s from-sure-thing-to-New-Hampshire spring disasterfuck haven’t exactly faded– I half expect Romero to be shielded from an upcoming regular season opponent in one of his final starts, and scurried away to the minor league complex, far from the prying eyes of reporters (in fact, according to the latest schedule at North Of The Border, Romero won’t take the bus tomorrow to face Tampa, but will instead work in a minor league game, though at least reporters know about it)– and the post hoc excuse-making the club was able to skate by on in late February would now taste about as satisfying now as turd punch.
That brings us to this week’s sudden revelation that in his next start Romero will be trying to not throw quite as much across his body as he did back on February 26th, when I snapped the pic above. He’ll also shift a bit towards third base on the rubber, as Drew rather astutely recommended at Getting Blanked at the end of last week.
It seems a bit late in the damn process to make such a change, minor as the club insists it is, but given his results so far it’s not terribly difficult to see why they might do it. It does, however, make one wonder a bit about what’s potentially being signalled by the switch.
One rather simple reason to do it, as Stephen Brunt and Buck Martinez pointed out in a conversation on the Fan 590 this week that also included Bob McCown, is that giving Romero some minor-ish mechanical changes to apply lets him channel his energy toward something more constructive than just the vague idea that he has to somehow just “be better.” At least, those were their words. I’m not sure I’d agree that what ails Ricky is quite so elusive. He could start by… I don’t know… throwing strikes, especially early in counts.
For two, if you’ll pardon my cynicism, now he’s got a built-in excuse if the next outing goes as poorly as some of the previous ones have.
I certainly wouldn’t suggest that’s what they’re banking on with the changes– in his piece Drew makes some damn fine sense on why a move towards the third base side of the rubber might genuinely help Romero– but it’s interesting, and seemingly rather savvy, that they’ve given their $31-million one-time ace a bit of artificial breathing space here as camp starts winding down. Can’t you just see it already? “He felt good with the changes we’ve been working on. Even if the results weren’t there yet, it’s going to take a little bit of time, but it’s truly for the best.”
Again, that doesn’t mean it’s not a genuine attempt to get him to a better place, but that the scrutiny of his next performance or two can only be stifled by this openness about the changes seems pretty clear. The other side of that coin, however, is that this late, somewhat desperate change in mechanics is a fairly strong signal that maybe something isn’t just “not quite working yet,” but is a genuine and deep problem, likely dating back to Romero’s disastrous 2012. And what’s especially odd– perhaps illuminating, perhaps flat out frightening– about letting it be known that he’s trying something new is, why say anything at all? Why not do what you did before, when he came out of the gate and, to everyone’s surprise, threw mostly sinkers? Why not wait and see if the changes produce better results, in the hope that the excuse-making won’t even be necessary?
I’m not saying I’d prefer the club to be deceptive– “it’s not a lie if we know the truth” and all that old noise– but if the only good that will come from making it known that these changes are taking place is that it will make it easier to excuse another poor performance, what does it say about the organization’s belief that Romero is going to pitch well? And what does it say about their continued insistence that he’s going north with this club, come hell or high water?
Maybe I’m missing something here. Or maybe this all came about a whole lot more innocuously than my cynical brain can comprehend, but the more my mind has been churning on it, the more I’ve felt like it might actually be possible for J.A. Happ to win a rotation spot before all is said and done.
Am I crazy? Probably. And hopefully this is all rendered moot after Ricky goes out tomorrow and actually finds where the plate is, it’s just… yeah, we should be so lucky.