Romero wins place in Jays rotation
Rookie left-hander, a first-rounder in '05, earns one of two openings
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Ricky Romero wasn't sure how to react. Standing inside Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston's office on Monday morning, the rookie pitcher searched for the right response after being informed that he had won a spot in the starting rotation.
"I told him, 'I'm sorry, but I have no words right now,' once he told me I made the team," said Romero, smiling as he recalled the morning's meeting. "It's crazy. It's what you dream of and there are no words that can explain it."
It was an especially satisfying moment for Gaston and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who spend more time behind closed doors telling players that there just isn't enough room for them on the roster. In Romero's case, that type of conversation nearly came earlier this spring, but Arnsberg convinced Toronto's decision-makers to keep the left-hander in camp.
Romero worked diligently with Arnsberg, adjusting his mechanics and gaining more confidence every time he walked to the mound. The hard work paid off, earning Romero the fourth spot in the rotation to open the season, which will be his first taste of the big leagues. Fellow rookies Brad Mills and Scott Richmond will now battle for the fifth starting job.
Shortly after receiving the news, Romero grabbed his cell phone and called his parents in California. First, Romero reached his dad.
"I think he was still asleep when I told him," Romero said with a laugh. "He was just kind of like, 'Whoa. No way.' My mom, she's a school-bus driver. She was on the bus, and she just screamed really loud and you could tell she kind of teared up.
"That's the beautiful part about it, to make them happy. That's why I play the game -- for them. It's just really exciting."
Reaching this point has not been easy for Romero, who was the first pitcher selected (sixth overall) during the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Romero, 24, was expected to cruise up the organizational ladder, but health and delivery issues made for a more gradual ascent through the farm system.
While Romero struggled with inconsistency in the Minor Leagues, other young pitchers began to catch him on the club's depth chart, passing him by in some cases. Stuck with the label and pressure of being a first-round Draft pick, Romero tried not to get too down on himself.
"I've always said there was going to be the right place and the right time," Romero said. "Two years ago, a year ago, [it] wasn't my time yet. I feel like this is my time and I'm ready. Obviously, the job isn't over yet. I feel like this is just the beginning, and I've got to continue to work hard and work hard every day.
"I can't forget what got me here to this point."
|"He almost teared up. He didn't know what to say. ... Those kinds of conversations, they hit home with us, because you don't get to do that that often -- to tell a kid, 'You're going to the big leagues.' He's never been there and so those are always fun. You kind of live for those moments."|
|-- Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, on Ricky Romero|
Part of what helped Romero earn the call into Gaston's office was his willingness to accept the changes Arnsberg wanted to make to the pitcher's delivery. Then again, the change might not have occurred had Arnsberg not plead with the general manager J.P. Ricciardi to keep Romero around a while longer.
Over his first three Grapefruit League outings, Romero issued nine walks and allowed five runs over six innings. After an outing on March 7, the club indicated that Romero was likely headed to Triple-A Las Vegas. Arnsberg believed he could help Romero avoid another trip to the Minor Leagues.
"I watched Ricky those first two or three starts," Arnsberg said, "and I went to J.P. and said, 'I've got to do something with this kid. He's never going to be the guy that we hope he's going to be if we don't make these adjustments.' J.P. just gave me full reign at that time, but the most important part of it is, you had a kid who was hook, line and sinker into it."
Mechanically, Arnsberg said he went to work on straightening Romero's stride and getting him in a better line toward home plate. Romero was throwing across his body, and other issues were leading him to consistently leave pitches high in the strike zone. Arnsberg stressed the importance of work days between starts, and Romero listened and retained all of the advice.
Mentally, Arnsberg had discussions with Romero about building his confidence and trusting in his ability on the mound. That aspect of Romero's game might have been just as important as the alterations to his delivery.
"I talked to him a lot about the courage and the confidence and the poise," Arnsberg said. "You've got the blend of a mechanical thing boosting the confidence thing. I said, 'When you walk out there on that mound, you've got to feel like you're a bad dude. This is my day. I've waited five days to do this.'
"I did more of a kind of gut search with him and let him understand that, 'Man, if you had what we see in you, if you had that in yourself, you're going to write your own ticket.' He kind of ran with that. All of a sudden, this 6-foot-1 man seemed like he was 6-foot-5."
|"I told [manager Cito Gaston], 'I'm sorry, but I have no words right now,' once he told me I made the team. It's crazy. It's what you dream of and there are no words that can explain it."|
|-- Ricky Romero|
Romero appreciated the time Arnsberg dedicated to working with him on the side.
"He's got a big part in it," Romero said. "He grabbed me aside and just told me, 'Listen, you have some good stuff and you've got to learn how to have confidence in your stuff.' ... I feel like that's what I did."
Romero added that talking to pitcher Jesse Litsch, who is one of his closest friends in the organization, also helped. Litsch, 24, has cemented himself as a big league starter for the Jays after pitching at the Double-A level just two seasons ago.
"Just talking to those guys and learning from them, I think that helped a lot," said Romero, who used to be a Minor League roommate of Litsch's. "Jesse was the same as Arnie, 'You've got to trust your stuff, and you've just got to go out there and have fun. You can't put too much pressure on yourself.'"
On Sunday, Romero convinced Toronto to take a chance on him with a strong seven-inning performance on the road against the Astros.
"He pitched himself right on the team," Gaston said.
Litsch was thrilled to hear that his close friend would be joining him in the Jays' rotation.
"I always knew he was going to get there," Litsch said. "He's always had great stuff. It's just a matter of putting it all together. From what I've been seeing the last few times out, he's put it all together and he did it at the right time. This game is full of opportunities, and he took big advantage of this."
Arnsberg was thrilled to be in the room when Romero learned he'd won the job.
"He almost teared up," Arnsberg said. "He didn't know what to say. ... Those kinds of conversations, they hit home with us, because you don't get to do that that often -- to tell a kid, 'You're going to the big leagues.' He's never been there and so those are always fun. You kind of live for those moments."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.