BUFFALO, N.Y. – Big-league rosters expand to 40 men on Sunday, the triple-A season ends Monday, and reinforcements from the Buffalo Bisons will be joining the Toronto Blue Jays shortly thereafter.
For Ricky Romero, the possibility that he’s among them hardly even registers right now.
“Not really, because I’m not on the roster,” he says in an interview. “Honestly, I’m not holding my breath on it. It is what it is. I went through a whole month where I was doing good and it didn’t happen. The whole time I’ve been down here I haven’t – the day I stopped thinking about when I was going to get up there was the day is when everything started changing a little bit.
“If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t, hey, I’ll go home to the people that have supported me and been behind me this whole time.”
The decision on whether to bring Romero up is one the Blue Jays are wrestling with intensely right now, opinion split on what’s best for the fighting-to-regain-his-footing left-hander.
One school of thought is that there’s little benefit to a September call up since he’s already been through so much this season between two demotions, two attempts at changing his mechanics, a return to his old delivery, the creation of the now-mothballed “Chucky” as a coping mechanism on the mound (which Michael Grange documented so well here), and his reluctant acceptance of a place in triple-A.
That much tumult in a single season could leave anyone feeling fried.
Another perspective is that all he’s endured should be rewarded with a return to the big-leagues – even out of the bullpen, an option that’s being discussed – and that the time is right to see where he’s at, both for Romero’s sake and the club’s, offering a gauge on if he might be a factor in 2014.
There is enough validity in both viewpoints to essentially make it a coin toss, with no proven approaches the Blue Jays can look to for guidance.
The risk/reward equations are fairly equal both ways.
“Ricky feels like he’s a big-league pitcher and he can compete at the big-league level with where he’s at right now, and I don’t disagree with that,” says Bisons manager Marty Brown. “On any given day, he can do that, but there are still the inconsistencies at some point where he has these outings you look at and think, ‘Gosh, what if that happened in Toronto, or in New York? How would Ricky deal with that mentally?’
“I’m a big fan so I’m kind of prejudiced, but if it were me, and it’s not me, I would put him to the test. I’d take him up in September and give him two or three starts to see where he’s at. I don’t think either way is wrong. But the only way you’re going to find out is to test it.”
That’s a fair point, and given how this season has turned out for the Blue Jays, they won’t hurt themselves in the standings by running him out there right now. This will be as consequence-free a time they’ll have to experiment with him as they’re going to get (at least they hope).
At the same time, bringing him up and putting him on the 40-man roster would be a vote of confidence from the organization Romero could no doubt use.
While being outrighted to Buffalo was largely insignificant to his chances of working his way back to the majors – the Blue Jays did the same thing with Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind during their down periods – the symbolism of being bumped off the 40 must have bothered Romero.
And surely he could have seen the limited rope given to him during a brief call-up – getting four innings against the Seattle Mariners on May 3 and just a third of an inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 8 – as a sign the team had very little faith in him.
“I’ve been a professional about it,” Romero says when asked how all the adversity has affected him. “I’ve kept my mouth shut here, and that’s just the way you go about it, being the same guy I am. Come in, work hard, do my thing, go home and be myself. There hasn’t really been anything different from what has gone on.
“Obviously your eyes widen a little more, you see things differently now. For now, we’ll see what happens.”
On the flip side of all that, if he gets hit hard in September, what does that mean for him longer-term? How do the Blue Jays reset things next spring? Does any last bit of appeal to other teams he may still have disappear? Does it end up burying him and the nearly $16 million he’s still owed through 2015?
“It’s a personality we’ve had a lot in this organization about triple-A, is the glass half empty or is the glass half full?” says Brown. “It depends on who you’re talking to. If you’re looking at it as a challenge and you feel there are enough positive things going on, and that he’s going to benefit from those starts, and you’re looking at the glass half full, then you take him up there. If you look at it as half empty and are worried that he’s going to fail, he’s obviously not going to be there.
“I think he’s on the way. Is here there yet? I don’t know. The only way to find out, I think, is throw him to the fire and see where it’s at. But I’m a half-full guy. That’s just me. Knowing Ricky the way I know him the challenge itself is something that he’s going to have to deal with, whether it’s September or next April.”
Romero’s last chance to try and sway the matter comes Sunday, when he’s scheduled to start against Syracuse.
Lehigh Valley gave him fits in his last two outings, getting him for five runs, four earned, both times, and after limiting the walks against him for a long stretch, he issued six on Tuesday. Still, the outing before those two he threw seven innings of one-run ball, walking one and striking out six.
It’s there the dilemma lies. The stuff and poise that made him an all-star in 2011 shows up regularly, but so too do the command issues that dogged him both last year and this one.
“I feel great,” he says. “The last few starts I’ve felt really good, my velocity is up, everything feels great, obviously you look at the line and everyone is quick to jump the gun and quick to put you down, but it’s understandable after everything.
“When I go home, I know I felt good, and that I’m competing, I’m getting into the sixth, seventh inning now. My head is held high.”
Given all he’s gone through, it should be.
“It’s difficult because initially when he got here, it was, ‘Why am I here? I’m an all-star,’ and he had to deal with that mentally,” says Brown. “He came to grips with the fact he’s just like any other triple-A player right now, that’s where he’s at, and he’s got to grow, it’s a growing process, it’s not just about going out and it’s going to click, and boom, I’m in the big-leagues.
“He’s realized there’s more to battle with than just that. That’s when he really progressed.”
Progressed enough to be ready? That’s the blind gamble before the Blue Jays, one with risks no matter which way they bet, neither guaranteeing the rich reward everyone so badly wants at the end.