Romero dominant as Jays blank Rangers
Right-hander notches 12 strikeouts in sparkling outing
TORONTO -- After shutting down the Rangers and shaking hands with his teammates, Ricky Romero stood and smiled inside the Blue Jays' clubhouse, thinking about the one person he knows has been waiting a long time to see him spin a shutout in the big leagues.
Romero had hoped to collect his first complete game on Sunday. He felt that would have been a special gift for his mother, Sandra, back home in Los Angeles on Mother's Day. Instead, Romero fashioned the first shutout of his career on Saturday at Rogers Centre, guiding the Blue Jays to a 6-0 victory over the Rangers.
"I wasn't able to get one for Mama last week," Romero said with a grin. "I got to pitch on Mother's Day, and I told her, 'I owe you one.' This is definitely for her."
Led by Romero's prowess on the mound and powered by a pair of home runs off the bat of Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays ran their record to 22-16 and notched their third victory in a row. Toronto has now won 10 of its past 13 games to remain within striking distance of the Rays and Yankees in the American League East.
One day after surviving a taxing, 16-10 win over the Rangers (20-17), the Blue Jays' bullpen received a much-needed break, thanks to Romero's 116-pitch performance. The young left-hander pounded the strike zone with a his entire arsenal, throwing one ball or fewer to 24 of the 32 Texas hitters he faced.
What was working?
"Everything," said Romero, still smiling. "It's one of those days where everything is falling. I located my fastball and my cutter, my changeup and my curveball wherever I wanted to the whole day."
That was a change of pace from Romero's last three starts, during which he allowed a combined 12 runs on 21 hits with 11 walks over 17 1/3 innings. Over that stretch, Romero watched his season ERA balloon to 3.42 from 1.80. Something had to change, so Romero said he went back to basics.
With such strong movement on his throws, Romero concentrated on throwing toward the middle of the plate, allowing his pitches to sink and cut through the strike zone. It sounds simple enough, but Blue Jays catcher Jose Molina said the adjustment made all the difference.
"Yeah, at least I can catch it better," Molina said with a laugh. "The truth is, we were just throwing the ball down the middle with all his pitches. If you go back to the replays, I barely moved for most of the pitches."
Romero (4-1) described it as a pitch-to-contact approach, and he did create seven outs via ground balls and another seven on pop flies. Along the way, though, Romero also matched a career best with 12 strikeouts, showing that his retuned style did not take anything away from his power game on the hill.
"[Romero] used his pitches, changed speeds, moved the ball around," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We just couldn't get anything going on him."
"[Romero] threw the ball real well," said Texas shortstop Michael Young. "He was getting ahead, using his changeup well with two strikes. The biggest thing was, he was flushing the zone, throwing a lot of strikes."
There was no doubt that the afternoon belonged to Romero, but Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was also quick to point out the contributions of another one of his players.
"Let's not forget about Bautista," Gaston said. "He had one heck of a day, too."
Bautista accounted for five of the Blue Jays' six runs, including four on his home runs.
In the fifth inning, Bautista yanked an 0-1 offering from Rangers right-hander Scott Feldman (1-4) to left field for a solo shot to put Toronto ahead, 2-0. After adding an RBI single in the sixth, Bautista later clubbed a three-run homer -- his ninth blast of the year -- off reliever Darren O'Day in the eighth.
"They both felt good," Bautista said of his homers. "Every at-bat, I squared up to the ball really well, and my timing was good."
That was more support than Romero required, but Bautista's second home run offered enough cushion to convince Gaston to leave the left-hander in the game. When the Jays held a 3-0 lead before the blast, Gaston had phoned the bullpen to request that closer Kevin Gregg begin to loosen up.
There was no need for Gregg this time, though.
"That ninth inning, I kind of had some adrenaline going," Romero said.
That was clear when Romero fired 14 of his final 15 pitches for strikes, punching out Young and Josh Hamilton to open the ninth and later forcing Nelson Cruz to ground out to end the contest. When it was all said and done, Romero had walked one, scattered five hits -- all singles -- and allowed just one Texas runner to reach as far as second base.
"Man, I'll tell you, Ricky was outstanding," Gaston said. "He just did a great job against a team like the Texas Rangers over there, a real good-hitting ballclub."
"Absolutely," Romero said. "That's a tough lineup right there, Texas. They've got some guys that can hit. To be able to hold them to a shutout, that's pretty special. Being my first career one, it's even more special."
Mama Romero should be proud, and she should probably expect a belated Mother's Day present. Romero was given a game ball to commemorate his first career complete game.
Asked if his mom would be getting that as a gift, Romero smiled.
"I'm sure she will," Romero replied.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.