Jays give Romero opening-day nod

Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero throws off the mound during practice at the team's spring training...

Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero throws off the mound during practice at the team's spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida on February 16, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:46 PM ET

DUNEDIN, Fla. — From being a No. 1 selection to a near bust to the Blue Jays opening day starter in 2011 — it’s been a wild and fast ride for Ricky Romero.

In the morning prior to batting practice Friday, manager John Farrell called Romero into his office and informed him that he would be the Jays’ opening-day starter April 1 against the Minnesota Twins.

It was no early April Fool’s Day joke, that indeed the 26-year-old Los Angeles native would be the pitcher asked to lead what will be one of the youngest rotations in the game.

“It’s a great honour for him,” manager John Farrell said of the left-hander. “He’s a guy we look at as a leader of our pitching staff. He’s earned it.”

The choice, of course, was a no-brainer and it would have been bigger news if someone other than Romero was selected.

Romero, though he expected the news and desperately wanted it, was humble and respectful of all that it entailed.

“It means everything, it means a lot,” said Romero, who is 27-18 with a 3.99 ERA over two seasons, the length of his major-league career. “To be able to accomplish what I’ve done in my first two years in Toronto is amazing. It’s an honour for me to be starting opening day.”

It was his job since Day 1 of spring training and Romero knew it.

“Did I expect this?” he said, then after a long pause went on. “I’m pretty demanding of myself so yeah I did. I expect to be the best when I’m out there. Am I going to be the best, probably not, but I know what it takes for me to get ready for a game and get ready for a season and when those expectations are not met by me, I beat myself up pretty good. But it’s something that I definitely envisioned and hoped to get there at one point.”

What made the day so special was his knowledge of where he’s been and what he’s gone through since being the sixth selection overall in the 2005 June draft.

“It’s hard to put into words to where I was two years ago, from being close to being cut and barely making the (2009) team,” he said. “Even before that, through my struggles in double-A and being considered a bust pretty much. But I think that helped me grow up. Now I look back at those years of struggling (2006 and 2007) and I thank god every day for them because it made me stronger mentally and physically and it’s helped me get to where I am today. Those struggles helped me grow up.”

That plus a Sports Illustrated article and some cutting words from former general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who drafted him.

“I go back to this Sports Illustrated article that was written (March 31, 2008) with five or six guys on the cover from the ’05 draft (who were a success in the big leagues) and inside it there was an article and J.P. had said at the time that they made the wrong decision (the Jays and Ricciardi were taking a lot of heat for not drafting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki who was drafted seventh and went on to star for Colorado),” Romero recalled. “I cut out the headline of the article (How Great Was The ’05 Draft?) and put it in my locker and I would read it every day even when I was struggling. I remember reading it and saying: ‘I’m going to prove everyone wrong one day.’ It was just motivation for me.

“I always said: ‘Hopefully they re-do that article and they put me on the cover too.’ ”

Given his growth curve, he may well soon be on the cover by himself.

“It’s crazy how time flies. It definitely keeps me humble,” he said of the whirlwind he has ridden the past two years. “Hopefully this is not the last opening-day start I have in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. It’s been a good ride the first two years and hopefully it just continues to get better.”

The Jays are betting that it will.


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