The Rebuilding of Ricky Romero made its Buffalo debut Tuesday night in Coca-Cola Field. And for the first time in a good long time, there was some good news to send to Toronto.
But only some.
Romero, the bedraggled former Blue Jays ace, put together by far his best five innings in three Triple-A appearances but got a no-decision in the Bisons’ 8-7, 10-inning win over the Charlotte Knights. After blowing a 7-1 lead, Buffalo won the game and earned a split of the four-game series on an RBI single down the third-base line by Andy LaRoche. He went 3 for 5 and drove in four runs.
Romero, the 28-year-old left-hander in a huge battle with his mechanics and mental outlook on the mound, had the six-run lead through five innings and recorded 11 groundball outs. He had walked just two men – after issuing 11 free passes over 7∑ innings in his first two starts.
Romero overcame adversity in the outing, yielding a trio of two-out doubles and allowing none to score while also being unfazed by a 15-minute rain delay. But some of the good feelings went away in the sixth inning when he walked the first four men he faced and threw just four of his 20 pitches for strikes before being relieved.
“A lot of groundball outs, which is good,” said Romero, a 15-game winner and All-Star in 2011. “It just shows the four-seamer and sinker are working, the change-up is working pretty good. I just got into trouble in the sixth inning and that’s a frustrating way to end the night and put the team in a hole there. The biggest thing right now is try to focus on the positives and not the negatives so much.”
Manager Marty Brown agreed. Take the first five innings and build off them.
“Overall it’s very positive and that’s what I told Rick, too,” Brown said. “You can’t look at that last inning and say the outing was a failure. It really wasn’t. I really liked what I saw. He’s on the right track. It’s more a mental thing than a physical thing. He’s got to work through it. With him, it’s one step at a time and I think tonight was a big step.”
Three of the walks in the sixth scored, leaving Romero with a final line of 5-plus innings, four runs on four hits, six walks and two strikeouts. His ERA with Buffalo dropped from 9.82 to 8.76.
He finished at 96 pitches and just 47 strikes after being at 49-31 through three innings.
Romero was clearly frustrated as he left the mound but still got plenty of applause from fans behind the first-base dugout in the crowd of 4,727.
“Nobody takes it harder than I do,” Romero said. “Because it’s something that I take serious and I prepare for every outing as hard as I can. It’s tough to sleep at night. The good thing is I’m surrounded by a bunch of great guys on this team and a great coaching staff.”
“He doesn’t want to let the team down, and not just the Toronto Blue Jays,” Brown said. “He doesn’t want to let our team down and that’s his mentality. Couldn’t have a better guy in the clubhouse.”
There were some 55-foot change-ups Tuesday but also just one baserunner apiece against Romero in innings 2-5.
“He fights himself. If he can avoid doing that, he definitely has the stuff,” said pitching coach Bob Stanley. “He’s in a big rut. Everyone has been there. I’ve been there.”
Stanley, remember, threw the historic wild pitch to Mookie Wilson and got the groundball that Bill Buckner booted to end Game Six of the 1986 World Series for the Boston Red Sox against the New York Mets in Shea Stadium.
The next year, the Red Sox turned him into a starter and he had a nightmarish 4-15 season before recovering to go 6-4 back in the bullpen in 1988.
What did he tell Romero about that experience?
“You just try to block everything out. Don’t read the papers,” Stanley said.
“Don’t listen to what other people say. Do your thing. Sorry about the not-reading-the-paper part. You can read it when it’s good. He’s had some great years. He is in a rut. He has to fight himself out of it.”
And not think about Toronto.
“I can’t really focus on what they’re thinking, what they’re going to do,” Romero said. “My job is to get the innings in and get quality outings. That’s the biggest thing.”
Prior to the game, the Blue Jays released veteran Miguel Batista (1-2, 8.36) and replaced him with Thad Weber, a waiver claim from San Diego who threw 2∏ innings of shutout relief Tuesday. Also, reliever Chad Beck (1-0, 9.45) has been placed on the disabled list and 31-year-old Dominican outfielder Ricardo Nanita was promoted from Double-A New Hampshire.