Wilner on Jays: Romero undaunted by new role

Ricky Romero delivers a pitch in spring training.
February 18, 2013, 4:51 PM

The second day of full-squad workouts for the Toronto Blue Jays featured Ricky Romero and Josh Johnson getting their first shots at real hitters during live batting practice as well as plenty of time spent on defensive drills, with two diamonds set up for pitchers to take part in fielding practice.

The fielding drills for pitchers are also known as “go cover first” and those drills are run through many, many times over the course of the spring so it becomes so firmly ingrained that they don’t have to ever do it again once the season starts.

Romero faced the same group that saw Brandon Morrow on Sunday — Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion, and it was Edwin who engaged in a playful exchange with Ricky during the session.

Romero told the story: “He’s been saying he’s going to hit a home run off me, and he almost did. I actually jammed him, but the wind was carrying out to left field, so he got a little lucky there (as the ball hit the wall on the fly) or else it would have been an F7.”

The Jays starter then called across the clubhouse: “Right Edwin? You got lucky.” To which Encarnacion replied, obviously not feeling quite the same way about the wind direction, “You got lucky!”

Ahhh, the playfulness of the boys of summer…..

The Blue Jays are hoping that playfulness and loose clubhouse atmosphere carries them through the ups and downs of a long season full of high expectations. There are bound to be some bumps along the road, and to that end, veterans like Henry Blanco, Mark Buehrle and Mark DeRosa have been brought in and are already making their presence felt.

Romero, for one, says he has already leaned on Buehrle “plenty of times….He gets on me for the whole walks thing from last year (Romero led the major leagues in walks with 105), hopefully I’m able to follow his lead in that way. Having a veteran guy like that in front of me, I feel like I can learn a lot.”

DeRosa has been taking ground balls alongside Brett Lawrie at third base, and manager John Gibbons has been impressed.

“(DeRosa’s) a great teammate,” Gibbons said. ” He gets the most out of guys, he’s one of those guys you never hear a bad thing about. Guys want him on their club, even through all the injuries and things. I think he’ll do wonders for Brett (Lawrie). He can shed some light and some of his experience on Brett and that’ll do wonders.”

Interestingly — and completely off-topic, but what the heck — DeRosa was in the line-up when R.A. Dickey made his first big-league start as a full-time knuckleballer, starting at third base for the Texas Rangers as Dickey gave up a major-league record-tying six home runs to the Detroit Tigers in just 3.1 innings back in April of 2006.

Definitely fodder for a Spring Training pre-game interview, perhaps even this weekend!

But back to Romero.

Free of the elbow pain that dogged him last season, having had surgical repairs done over the winter, Romero looked strong on the mound — though it was only batting practice.

His knees are more of a concern than his elbow, and he seemed to believe that he’ll have to pitch through the discomfort. Hopefully he can, because the alternative could be one of those subtle, unconscious changes in mechanics that leads to arm problems, and no one wants to see that.

Romero is scheduled to come out of the blocks as the fifth starter this season, behind Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle and Johnson. Having started each of the last two Opening Days (both Blue Jays wins), Romero could be forgiven for feeling slighted, even with his very disappointing 2012 in the rear-view mirror, but he says that’s not the case:

“I think it helps me, and it helps the team,” said Romero. ” I’ve always said that it’s about the team and it’s not about me. I’ve never been an ego-type guy where I feel like my pride is being hurt. I know what I’ve done my first four years in the big-leagues and I know last year was a struggle, but it almost seems like the other three years seem to be thrown under the rug and it’s like they never happened.

“People are going to have their doubts or questions, whatever it is, but to me, I really don’t care. My job is to go out there and pitch, whether it’s out of the fifth slot or wherever. You’ve still got to face big-league hitters night in and night out, so it’s the same.”

Romero’s first start is scheduled for the first Saturday of the regular season, Apr.6, against John Farrell’s Boston Red Sox.

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