ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Toronto Blue Jays rotation is in flux right now with J.A. Happ on the disabled list for an unknown period, Josh Johnson at least a week plus from being ready, and such minimal trust in Ricky Romero that he was pulled after only seven batters Wednesday night.
How little faith did manager John Gibbons show in the left-hander in what ended as a 10-4 thumping from the Tampa Bay Rays?
Consider that he opted for slop-tossing righty Edgar Gonzalez, called up just in case such an occasion presented itself, with one out, the bases loaded and three runs in during the first rather than giving Romero the rope to try and right himself on the mound and escape his jam.
Now it can be fairly argued that Gibbons had to make the move before the game totally unravelled — the Rays led 3-2 when he called for Gonzalez — but at what damage to Romero, making only his second big-league start and third outing overall since his Dunedin makeover?
"You consider all that stuff, but I've got a responsibility to 25 guys on that field," Gibbons said afterwards. "They're trying to win the game and we're trying to win that game. …
"They were on the verge of blowing it out. I thought he was a little bit tentative, and we were still in the game until the sixth inning when they opened it up. It was a struggle for him."
Romero's next start is likely to be next Tuesday as the Blue Jays are kicking around a shuffle in the rotation that would include pushing Brandon Morrow, something mentioned by Jerry Howarth on the Blue Jays radio broadcast Wednesday and confirmed by sportsnet.ca.
Morrow experienced spasms in his neck and back this week and the Blue Jays are expected to announce Thursday that he will start Sunday in Boston instead of Friday's series opener with the Red Sox. That would leave them in need of a spot starter Friday, but if things play out right, that would be the only outing in need of filling.
Mark Buehrle would go Saturday, with Morrow on Sunday, Romero on Tuesday after Monday's off-day, followed by R.A. Dickey (still dealing with his own neck and back tightness) on an extra day of rest.
There's another off-day on the 16th and Morrow could jump back into his No. 2 slot on the 17th with Buehrle on the 18th, and perhaps by then Johnson, with at least one rehab outing under his belt, could be ready on the 19th.
Regardless of how that plays out, the Blue Jays need Romero right now as Happ is out indefinitely with a right knee sprain suffered as he collapsed from the line drive that struck him in the head Tuesday. It won't require surgery, the team said, but may ultimately keep him out longer than the skull fracture and eight stitches in his left ear.
Besides, the Blue Jays can't simply pull back on Romero because of one poor start.
"I don't see it as a step backwards," he said of Wednesday, the shortest start of his career. "The statistics don't show that but you hold your head high. …
"I know this is where I belong and I'll continue to say it, I could care less what anybody thinks. I can't forget what I've done, my track record isn't very big, but you can't forget what I've done the past four years, either. This is one of those things you wish you had the answer to but you've got to keep going out there and learning about yourself."
The Blue Jays don't exactly have a plethora of alternatives for a spot-start Friday, let alone a longer-term fill job.
Gonzalez admirably soaked up 4.2 innings in place of Romero but allowed five runs on six hits and a team with its eye on winning can't start him.
The rest of the triple-A Buffalo rotation is some underwhelming variation of Gonzalez -- Claudio Vargas threw six innings Wednesday and is out, leaving, gulp, Miguel Batista, Ramon Ortiz, Dave Bush and Justin Germano as possibilities.
At double-A New Hampshire, Chad Jenkins, who returned from the disabled list with five innings of two-run ball Monday, would be a better option, but it's unclear where his stuff is at right now and the Blue Jays may want to be cautious with him.
All that makes keeping Romero in the mix crucial. The question now is did they set him back too far in his to this point delicately orchestrated build-up, or does he have enough faith in his new mechanics to bounce back when his team needs him?
"Stuff like this isn't going to keep me down" he said. "I'm going to come back and be ready to work (Thursday) and see where we can get better."
The Blue Jays have little choice but to count on it.
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays (13-22) had their season-high three-game winning streak stopped and now leave it up to Dickey to seal their first series win at Tampa Bay in 18 tries on Thursday against fellow reigning Cy Young Award winner David Price of the Rays (15-18).
THE ARMS: By no means was Romero crushed in the first, but he didn't help himself with two walks and by routinely falling behind batters.
The final straw was a weak grounder through the right side by Luke Scott that made it 3-2.
"I actually felt really good. Obviously the walks don't help me in that situation there, but if you look at the hits they hit, none of them were really squared up," said Romero. "I felt like I made some good pitches … they just didn't go my way."
Gonzalez at least threw strikes and plenty of them, surrendering two-run homers to Evan Longoria in the fourth and Kelly Johnson in the sixth.
Esmil Rogers and Brett Cecil cleaned up the rest.
"Gonzalez kept us there and then it exploded it in the sixth," said Gibbons. "That's what took us out of it right there."
THE BATS: The Blue Jays got off to a solid start in this one when Edwin Encarnacion ripped his 10th homer of the season, a two-run blast, in the first, but Mark DeRosa's long fly ball to centre ended the first with two runners on, and a shaky Matt Moore managed to bend but not break for the next four innings.
They didn't score again until a two-spot in the seventh, but by then the Rays were up 10-4 and there was no comeback to be this night.