Canadian Jordan Romano fulfilling childhood dream with Blue Jays call-up

Toronto Blue pitcher Jordan Romano. (Frank Gunn/CP)

BALTIMORE – Last December, Jordan Romano was working out at Rogers Centre, as he often did during the off-season, when he learned of his selection in the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago White Sox, who promptly flipped him to the Texas Rangers.

The moment was bittersweet.

For the first time the right-hander from Markham, Ont., would go to spring training with a real shot to fulfil his childhood dream of pitching in the big-leagues. But he wouldn’t be doing it with the Toronto Blue Jays, the team he grew up cheering for and that drafted him out of Oral Roberts University in 2014.

As fate would have it, he didn’t break camp with the Rangers despite a solid showing, and rejoined the Blue Jays who promptly stretched him back out and planned to make him a starter at triple-A Buffalo. Two months later, after some initial struggles upon returning to the relief role envisioned for him in Texas, his childhood dream came to life in the uniform he always pictured it in, joining the Blue Jays in Baltimore as closer Ken Giles hit the injured list.

“Getting here with the Blue Jays was my main intention,” Romano said in the visitor’s clubhouse at Camden Yards on Wednesday. “I had a great time with the Rangers, spring training was awesome, and I felt like I was pretty close with Texas. Didn’t make the team, came back to Buffalo, I was struggling for the first little bit, so it felt like I was so close, and then it was so far away. Then the last couple of weeks I put together a few good outings and now we’re here. So it was really a high, low, then a high again.

“It’s been kind of a roller-coaster but I’m glad I’m here.”

Opportunity opened for him when Giles continued to feel some tightness in his elbow after back-to-back appearances versus the New York Yankees last week. The club officially termed the issue right-elbow inflammation and backdated the first IL stint of his career to June 9, meaning he’s eligible to return next Wednesday against the Los Angeles Angels.

Giles expects to be ready for a return then, terming the discomfort he’s feeling as “no big deal” and insisting that he’s “not really concerned about it.”

“My recovery process is going a little slower than normal,” he added. “Just want to be smart, no reason to push myself, just me getting some rest and doing some treatment on it is the best thing for the team so I don’t put us in a bigger hole.”

The timing of the injury is potentially problematic given its proximity to the trade deadline and Giles’ status as one the Blue Jays’ top chips in a market expected to be light on impact relievers. But while a rival scout said interested teams will now be wondering what exactly they’re buying in Giles, there’s still enough time for him to return and allay any concerns ahead of July 31.

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More immediately, it’s another hole on a boat already taking on water for the Blue Jays, who could count Giles as one of their few successes so far this year. In his absence, Charlie Montoyo said Joe Biagini will get a chance to close, with Daniel Hudson and Tim Mayza each sliding an inning back in the set-up role.

Romano, among the most effective relievers at triple-A Buffalo of late after emerging as the closer there, may end up seeing some leverage innings, as well, given the state of things. How long he stays is uncertain, especially with David Phelps’ rehab assignment picking up steam, but the Bisons staff told Montoyo the Canadian was the arm most deserving of a promotion.

Since making a slight adjustment to his arm path – rather than extending his arm full out through the release, he’s coming through tighter to his body with more of a bend in his elbow – Romano has been nearly untouchable. In his last 12.1 innings over nine games, he’s allowed one earned run on six hits and three walks with 18 strikeouts.

“The first couple of days, it started feeling pretty good and then the next week, it felt even better and it then progressed to where I’ve been feeling good for about three weeks now, feeling better and better and better and I got in a little groove,” Romano said of the adjustment, which has led to an uptick of 3-4 m.p.h., into the upper 90s. “It made my arm path more efficient and allowed me throw a little bit harder.”

All of that helped land him in Baltimore with the Blue Jays. He was with the Bisons in Indianapolis when manager Bobby Meacham broke the news to him around 11:30 at night. He called home to let his mom Cynthia and dad Joe, who was on his way to work a night shift but bailed on it to travel to Baltimore, know the news.

They made it to Camden Yards in times to help celebrate their son’s breakthrough after parts of six seasons in the minors, going from reliever to starter back to reliever again with a Tommy John surgery in between.

“It’s definitely a transition you have to get used to, closing to starting,” said Romano. “I felt I was doing pretty well as a starter, but this year the transition from spring training when I was a bullpen guy to starting didn’t go as smoothly. Now I’m back in the ‘pen, and a lot more comfortable.

“I know how my stuff plays up in the bullpen and that was the best spot for me to be in to help this club at this level win. We all talked about it and they agreed as well, I’d go to the bullpen and that’s where I’d have the best chance to succeed up here.”

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