Romero feels pitchers' pain

Blue Jays pitchers Brett Cecil (left), Jesse Litsch (centre) and Ricky Romero wait for a running...

Blue Jays pitchers Brett Cecil (left), Jesse Litsch (centre) and Ricky Romero wait for a running drill during practice at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., Feb. 21, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:29 AM ET

DUNEDIN, FLA. - When Blue Jays pitchers Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil both hit the wall — and hit it hard— last season, nobody on the pitching staff felt more empathy than Ricky Romero.

“It’s tough for a young kid to come up here and all of a sudden he gets hit in the mouth and he doesn’t know how to react,” Romero said Tuesday.

Romero could see the signs and sense the panic because like Drabek and Cecil, who had no answers when that wall knocked them flat, he had been there before.

The difference for Romero was that his dark period happened in the deep minor leagues, in front of hundreds of fans, not thousands. There weren’t 20 reporters waiting at the end of the day to probe the wound, no TV cameras to record the embarrassing meltdowns.

There were only questions with complicated answers that are invisible to someone who has never faced adversity.

Romero always had a target on his back as “the guy who the Jays took instead of Troy Tulowitzki” with the sixth pick in the 2005 draft. But at least he didn’t have to wear it every day as he struggled far from Toronto, in the minors, where he was just another kid trying to figure it all out.

“To this day, I still thank God that I went through those times,” Romero said. “For me personally, as a young player, you have to fail before you come up (to the bigs), just so you know what it’s like to fail. It happened over 21/2 years for me when I was consistently going out and failing, failing, failing, failing. It made me mentally stronger.”

Romero wandered in the baseball wilderness for four years but when things came together for him in the spring of 2009, it was as if a light went on. He won a rotation spot that spring in his final start, rallying from some early camp setbacks.

He has responded with three solid seasons, each better than the one before. His win totals went from 13 to 14 to 15. His ERAs went from 4.30 to 3.73 to 2.92. His innings went from 178 to 210 to 225. His status went from draft mistake to staff leader.

Now far from those early struggles, Romero is the guy with the torch in his hand, leading the Blue Jays, he hopes, to a place they haven’t been in nearly two decades: The playoffs.

“When I came up, it was Roy Halladay and guys like that, older than me,” he said. “I was the kid. I’m only 27 years old but I feel like I’m old now. Everyone talks about me leading the staff but I don’t really pay attention to stuff like that. I just go about my business and work hard. I learned in the big leagues by watching just one guy (Halladay) and I hope other young guys do the same with me. Just watch how I work.”

Romero has talked with Drabek and Cecil, who both were stung hard last year and are dealing with their setbacks.

Cecil has dropped 32 pounds and turned into a gym rat, increasing the intensity of his workouts to give himself the kind of athletic body that he hopes will be a platform for success.

“We sat down and had some very candid conversations with (Cecil) at the end of the season,” manager John Farrell said. “He was well aware of it and he wasn’t pleased with the way things turned out last year.

“To his credit, he made the commitment to get himself in better shape. Whether that translates into more velocity, we’ll see. But more importantly, this will really help him with body control and his ability to repeat his delivery.”

A lot of people look at the Blue Jays starting staff and simply see a status quo and are not impressed. Romero looks at the same staff and sees continuity, with another year of experience from which to draw upon.

“We’re young but we’re all battle-tested,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for two, three, four years now.”

Drabek came into last year’s camp more or less guaranteed a spot in the rotation. That is not the case this year. He will have to earn a spot and plans to do just that.

“I think the guys that struggled last year are coming in wanting to prove everyone wrong,” Romero said. “That’s a good mindset.”

Spoken with the voice of experience.


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