One of the few pleasant surprises for the Jays in 2009 was the emergence of their young pitching. Injuries and departures opened up spots for many young arms in the system and they delivered admirably – only great performances from our kids saved us from being a last place team. While efforts from Scott Richmond, Marc Rzepczynski, and Brett Cecil were certainly commendable, perhaps no other rookie pitcher performed as well for us as a certain Ricky Romero.
Ricky Romero was drafted in 2005 in the first round by former Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi. He was taken prior to Troy Tulowitzki, who has developed into star with the Colorado Rockies. Tulowitzki’s stardom caused controversy when it was suggested that Ricciardi made a poor draft choice, especially because Russ Adams – the apparent shortstop of the future – was a failure defensively and lost his ability to hit well, forcing him back to the minor leagues. In 2007, while Tulowitzki was having a 24 home run season in Colorado, Romero was toiling away in the minor leagues and looking more like a bust every single day.
Then 2009 came. Romero struggled with his command early in Spring Training and appeared to be on a direct road to AAA Las Vegas. However after some training sessions with former pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, he righted the ship and made the big club after only one AAA start. He started with a flourish, winning two of his first three starts to the tune of a 1.71 ERA. Unfortunately, he was placed on the disabled list shortly after that start with an oblique strain he suffered sneezing while he was dancing to rap music. He lost his first two starts back, in late May, but proceeded to post seven straight quality starts (5-1) through the middle of July.
On July 17, Ricky Romero hit a wall.
He got hammered for five earned runs in Boston in under five innings, and was never as effective after that. At times he pitched serviceably over the remaineder of the season, but the Ricky Romero who looked like a legitimate #2 starter was gone. He went a pedestrian 6-5 the rest of the way with an ERA of 5.40 over 86.2 innings. Yuck. He made a few good starts, but otherwise looked exhauseted as hius velocity dropped and his command deserted him entirely. Up until the wall he was a fron runner for Rookie of the Year. In the balloting at the end of the season, he did not receive a single vote. He pitched about 30 more innings than any other season in his professional career and the fact that they were major league innings made them that much more stressful. Romero simply ran out of gas. Which brings us to a very important question. Which Romero is the real deal? The #2 starter or the Quad-A swingman?
This question becomes even more critical when one considers that Roy Halladay may well be leaving the Jays giving Romero the role of de facto ace of the staff. If Romero can keep his strong form throughout the yaer, the Jays won’t be spectacular in 2010, but okay. If not, the Jays are about to have a problem. A major problem.