TORONTO – J.P. Arencibia has caught each of Ricky Romero’s last 49 starts and knows the ace left-hander as well as anyone on the Toronto Blue Jays, which is why he’s especially perplexed by his teammate’s struggles.
Though Arencibia can’t pinpoint the problem, from his vantage point behind the plate he has noticed one thing that troubles him.
"I just don’t see the fire, the Ricky that goes out there and wants to just, not literally, kill everybody that goes in the box," Arencibia said after Romero was roughed up for a season-high 11 hits and eight earned runs in an 11-3 spanking from the Kansas City Royals on Monday. "It’s tough to see him struggle out there because you know how hard he works, you know how much he cares. …
"It’s not that he doesn’t want to compete, it’s not that he doesn’t want to be good, it’s just that passive, kind of here it goes again type of thing, and that I think is the biggest thing."
LISTEN LIVE WEDNESDAY: Ricky Romero joins the debut edition of Baseball Central @ Noon on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
Certainly confidence, or lack thereof, is part of the problem for Romero right now, who isn’t showing his usual swag and belief in his ability. In part that’s rooted in erratic fastball command, something that improved against the Royals in comparison to his last outing against the Red Sox but wasn’t sharp enough for him to finish off the hitters he got ahead of.
The end result was him getting bombed for eight runs, managing to at least work his way through six innings this time as opposed to last Wednesday in Boston, when Romero gave up nine runs, eight earned on seven hits and six walks in three innings. He walked three Royals this time.
"There are some tangible things you can point to when compared to his last outing," said manager John Farrell, who described his performance as a step in the right direction. "Is it where the end result is going to be? No, it’s not.
"But what we’re trying to convey to Ricky and for him to get his arms around, is that this isn’t a matter of looking at his body of work through the first half, looking at an ERA, it’s about executing from pitch to pitch. And first pitch strikes were greatly improved, the action to his changeup for the most part was much better, he threw a greater number of curveballs that had consistent depth and shape, so from those comparisons, it was an improvement."
Searching far and wide for positives, to be sure, but for Romero, who sat for a long time at his locker with a towel over his head post-game, any answers are helpful.
"I don’t know what it is right now. I really don’t," he said somberly. "I felt like I was in better control of myself mechanically and I felt good mentally. It’s disappointing. … You go through these rough patches and sometimes they feel like they’re never going to end. That’s how it feels right now."
Both Farrell and Romero (8-3) have repeatedly insisted health isn’t an issue, leaving the mental side as one focal point for the Blue Jays to work on. After the Boston blasting, Farrell suggested an inconsistent mental approach was part of the problem and that Romero was lacking trust and belief in his stuff.
Along with working on getting his arm-side fastball right, the team also sought to soothe his mind.
"There was some sit-down conversation with him, just to give him something tangible to look to execute and that’s where every plan of attack with a given hitter begins," Farrell explained before the game. "That can be strike one, it gives him a constant that if he needs to adjust off of, based on the aggressiveness of the opposition, based on what’s working well for him with certain pitches.
"But we really just wanted to get back to basics and simplify things as best we could."
There remains work to do on that front before Romero’s next chance to end his slide, Friday at Chicago against the White Sox.
THE BIG PICTURE: With their sixth loss in nine outings, the Blue Jays (40-40) dropped back to .500 before a crowd of 17,127. The Royals (36-42), meanwhile, ended a three-game losing streak.
MAKING MOVES: Fresh off surrendering a grand slam, right-handed reliever David Pauley was designated for assignment after the game by the Blue Jays, who will add right-hander Drew Carpenter to their roster from triple-A Las Vegas on Tuesday.
THE BATS: The Blue Jays got to Everett Teaford (1-1) for a pair of home runs – No. 27 for Jose Bautista, who on Monday was named AL player of the month for June, and No. 16 for Colby Rasmus, a monster blast off the 500-level facing – but both did minimal damage because they were solo shots.
Teaford allowed just five hits and two walks in his seven innings, only really finding himself in trouble in the first when the Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out but scored just one run on Yunel Escobar’s groundout.
With only a handful of base-runners after that, they had little hope of coming back.
THE ARMS: Staked to a 1-0 lead in the first, Romero failed to get a shutdown inning in the second when he surrendered a two-run shot to Salvador Perez, then gave up two-spots in the third and fourth in dropping the Blue Jays into a 6-2 hole they never recovered from.
He settled down a bit from there before allowing the first two batters of the seventh to reach, his evening then put to an end by manager Farrell, who called on Pauley and watched the floodgates open.
While that stung, the bigger concern is with getting Romero right, who seemed to have regrouped from a rough stretch earlier this season but is now mired deeper in his funk. He’s allowed four or more runs in each of his past eight starts.
"His stuff was great tonight," said Arencibia. "I can’t put my finger on it."
While Romero was responsible for most of the damage, Pauley didn’t help matters in this one when he came on with two on and none out in the seventh and promptly hit Billy Butler to load the bases.
After a Yuniesky Betancourt single made it 7-3, Mike Moustakas hammered the first pitch he saw from Pauley to centre for his first career grand slam, effectively crushing any hopes the Blue Jays had for a comeback.
DERBY TIME: Bautista was officially named to the AL home run derby team by captain Robinson Cano on Monday, along with Prince Fielder and Mark Trumbo. Bautista took part in the event last year, hitting four home runs which wasn’t enough to escape the first round.
HARD TO K: Brett Lawrie’s strikeout in the fifth inning put an end to a run of 34 straight at-bats without a K that started June 24 at Miami. Teaford proceeded to strike him out again in the seventh inning.
SIGN ME UP: The signing period for international free agents opened Monday and the Blue Jays signed Venezuelan shortstops Franklin Barreto and Luis Castro, according to Baseball America. Barreto was the BA’s top ranked prospect and is reportedly getting US$2 million, while the publication ranked Castor No. 9.
Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can’t spend more than US$2.9 million without incurring an escalating tax that begins at 75 per cent on any overage. Much like they did in the draft, the Blue Jays appear to have opted to devote their spending power on a few premium prospects rather than spreading it around on a handful of lesser talents.
WORK OUTS: The Blue Jays worked out 16th-round draft pick Will Dupont during batting practice. The infielder took balls at shortstop with assistant GM Andrew Tinnish and a handful of scouts keeping close tabs on him. Prior to BP, shortstop Nick Lovullo, the son of Blue Jays first base coach Torey chosen in the 38th round, took some grounders.