DETROIT – Though not as simple or as quick as it may have sounded at some points during spring training, the gradual process of cleaning up Ricky Romero’s delivery is seemingly going well two weeks into his demotion to single-A Dunedin.
In side sessions and drill work, the Toronto Blue Jays left-hander is repeating the adjusted mechanics aimed at keeping his hips and shoulders driving toward home plate instead of first base, something designed to make it easier for his arm to finish pitches, particularly to his far side of the dish.
A return to game action is “right around the corner here,” pitching coach Pete Walker said Tuesday, although he “can’t put an exact date on it” just yet, adding that Romero likely needs to see action with hitters standing in or by throwing batting practice first.
There are a lot of moving parts in play and the Blue Jays are intent on having Romero ingrain the changes before retaking the mound in a competitive environment, which is why all his progress has been gradual.
"The difficulty is getting in games and competing at a high level, your body reverts back to what it's done in the past," Walker explained. "That's what would happen in some of his games, he would start off good, and just creep back into a jam, and his body would start shooting off to the (first-base) side again. We're not looking for perfection in the delivery, we just want him to be cleaner to home plate."
The current methodical pace is in contrast to the rush to shoe-horn mechanical adjustments into the final two weeks of camp, when the Blue Jays felt Romero's motion was falling back into last year's worrisome habits.
Once he got blasted in a minor-league outing and then was erratic in his spring finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Blue Jays came to "the realization it takes time," said Walker.
"We were hopeful it could be done real quick," he added, "the reality of it is it's definitely going to take some time to repeat, and repeat for seven or eight innings."
At issue are many little things, each leading to one complicated whole.
Take his plant foot, for instance, which would start with the heel pointed toward home plate. From that starting point, it became harder for his hips to fully come around, and rather than push toward home, he'd end up driving in the direction of first base.
In turn that kept his shoulders from being able to fully rotate, and essentially blocked off his arm from coming all the way around. As a result, his command disappeared.
To compensate, minor-league pitching co-ordinator Dane Johnson is working with Romero to get his "direction of the lower half and upper half together, where the hips are driving toward home plate, the front shoulder and the glove have better direction toward home plate, so the upper body and lower body are working together," explained Walker.
"As the hips go off for Ricky toward the first-base side, it's difficult for him to repeat, so we're trying to get his hips in a better direction," he continued. "Again, that involves the upper half as well, shoulders, hips are the main points of focus and the direction they're taking to home plate. That cleans up the arm action as well, and over the long term puts him in a better position to remain healthy."
Romero came out of his final start in a dreadful 2012 with tendonitis in his left knee, and after the season had surgery to clean up his left elbow. While both surely contributed to his 9-14 record with a 5.77 ERA, it's unclear if they were the cause or, a result of his altered mechanics.
Asked when Romero moved off the delivery from his all-star 2011 season, when he went 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA in 32 starts, Walker replied simply that, "over time, he got farther across his body."
"Is (the delivery) ever going to be perfect? No, it's not what we're trying to create, we're not looking for a cookie-cutter delivery," he continued. "We're just trying to take the stress off of him and put him in a position to repeat his pitches better. ...
"I think he's close to games. The reports are his side work has been great, Dane Johnson, we've been in contact, we're talking to him, taking to Ricky, he seems to be pleased where he is. ... Once he gets into games, we want to feel good about him repeating and being able to do it consistently. But when the games start, it should be a gradual progression to build him up again."
There's no reason to rush, and with Romero due $7.75 million this season and in each of the next two, very good reason to get this right.