Before Ricky Romero could address his pitching mechanics, he had to deal with his anger — a daunting task for a former MLB all-star who was demoted by the Toronto Blue Jays to the minor leagues this spring.
“At the beginning it’s tough to realize what it is that I really need to work on,” Romero said. “It took me a couple days — I had so much anger and so much disappointment and stuff like that because I took care of myself so good in the off-season to be ready for spring training that I was disappointed in myself.”
Romero debuted Friday against the Seattle Mariners, cruising through three innings before encountering some mechanical issues and apparently minor injuries in the fourth.
He dealt with a callus on his pitching hand before getting hit on the left forearm with a batted ball. After the game both Romero and manager John Gibbons expressed optimism that the injuries would not prevent Romero from making his next start.
The next time Romero takes the mound, he expects better results. He certainly won’t be as wired for start number two as he was for his 2013 debut.
“It almost felt like I was a rookie all over again,” Romero said. “Trying to take it all in and then trying to calm myself down. Sleeping (Thursday) night I was just so anxious and I got in a little later than I expected. So like I said I’m just looking forward to getting my feet back on the ground and getting back into that routine and working.”
Pitching instructor Dane Johnson said before Romero’s start that the left-hander’s newly-established routines will help him succeed at the MLB level. Johnson worked closely with Romero over the course of the last month to refine his delivery and create new habits.
In order to establish those routines, Johnson and Romero looked at old video footage of he left-hander. Then they progressed to the field, starting with the basics.
“Everything came from learning how to play catch again,” Romero said. “Playing catch the right way and attention to detail and all of that stuff. Taking playing catch into the bullpen and stuff like that. It took a little longer than I expected, but in end I was happy with where I was going.”
Even at the minor league level. In fact, Romero said his experience back in the minor leagues opened his eyes in some ways.
“At first it’s tough to be down there in the minors and surrounded in a different atmosphere than you’re used to,” he said. “You’re there by yourself, you don’t know a lot about other guys, the kids that are out there grinding trying to make a short season team, a high A-team, whatever it is. I think my biggest goal was to be a good role model and talk to them whenever I had a chance to, so I felt like I was able to do that.”
First, Romero had to apply himself to Johnson’s plan, something that’s easier said than done for an accomplished pitcher still getting over the initial anger that accompanied his demotion.
“From day one Dane told me ‘either you’re going to commit to this or you’re not, and if you don’t who knows what’s going to happen with you.’ When he told me that — when he tracked me down and told me that it’s just time to work, and that’s what I did,” Romero said.
As Romero and Johnson worked on pitching mechanics in Florida, the Blue Jays struggled despite their aggressive off-season moves. Romero followed the team’s progress, but didn’t end up seeing most games.
“I don’t think I watched very many because one I didn’t have the MLB package at home and it’s kind of tough to watch the team on TV and you’re kind of stuck out there,” he said. “After I was done with practice, it was a long eight or nine hours just sitting there, gathering my thoughts at home and you’d catch it here and there.”
While Romero’s time in the minor leagues was productive, he’s relieved it’s over. He still considers himself an MLB pitcher, and re-working his delivery far from Toronto wasn’t easy.
“It kind of wears on you being down there,” Romero said. “You’re away from your team — your family — the guys that you’re around year-round. It teaches you a lot as a man, as a person and as a baseball player. It’s not the end of the world with these things. Obviously I’m a competitor and I want to win so hopefully we get on a roll.”