Romero a cut above

Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero pitches in the bullpen at the club's spring training facility in...

Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero pitches in the bullpen at the club's spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., Feb. 22, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:24 PM ET

DUNEDIN, FLA. - The graph of Ricky Romero’s career to date has been one of steady improvement each year and he’s already making plans for a way to continue that in 2012.

He added a cut fastball in 2011 but did not feel he had it mastered well enough to include as part of his repertoire. The new pitch will be his work in progress this spring.

“I’m planning on refining the cutter this year and learning how to pitch with it,” said Romero. “Back door side, front door side. That’s where I’m at with it. I’ve already talked to (pitching coach Bruce Walton) and we’re all on board with it.”

DEAL COULD GET DONE

Even though the decision regarding one new wild-card team for each of MLB’s two leagues has bled into the start of spring training, Blue Jays pitcher Carlos Villanueva believes there’s still time to make it happen for 2012.

As a member of MLB Players Association’s four-man executive board, Villanueva has been part of the discussion between players and owners.

“I’m confident we can get something done,” said Villanueva. “I can’t tell you when or how because I really don’t know right now.”

The key remaining issue is scheduling. There is a very short window of opportunity to add games after the end of the season but before the start of the opening round of Division Series. It’s expected that the wild-card play-in would be held on first day after the end of the regular schedule.

“There are a lot of scenarios we have to plan for,” said Villanueva. “We want to avoid a situation that would force a team to fly from the west coast and back for just one game then play again the next day.”

The problems aside, Villanueva is in full support of an expanded playoff format.

“Personally I would like it to happen. I think it’s an opportunity for a team like us to get involved deeper in the race,” he said. “It just depends if we can get together and come up with something that works. Both side want to make it work and keep the game growing.”

MR. BIGS

In 2011, pitcher Drew Hutchison blew through two minor-league levels and into a third and now he’s already demonstrating why he’s on the fast-track to the big leagues.

Three years ago right now, Hutchison was finishing up his senior year at Lakeland High School, just an hour’s drive down the road from Dunedin.

This week, he’s been impressing his major-league masters with his pinpoint control and his unflappable demeanour on the mound in his first big-league camp.

“It’s a very mature approach,” said manager John Farrell. “A lot of times you’ll see young guys get amped up and like to hear the glove pop. But Drew takes a pitch-to-pitch approach with respect to execution. It’s a very mature approach for a guy who is 21 and has just 15 innings at the Double A level.”

Calm and cool is the only way Hutchison seems to know.

“Just the way he handles himself in the clubhouse when you interact with him,” said Farrell. “He’s very much on an even keel. I think it’s one of the reasons he commands a baseball as well as he does. He’s a good athlete and he repeats his delivery but his emotional spikes, as we refer to them, don’t get out of whack and he’s able to keep things under control even in tight spots.”

It’s likely that Hutchison will return to New Hampshire this year for more seasoning but not before leaving a big impression in Dunedin.

CORDERO COOL

Coming off a year in which he saved 37 games and held opposing hitters to the lowest batting average of his career — .198 — you might think Francisco Cordero would be a little miffed to be playing second fiddle to Sergio Santos in the Blue Jays bullpen

“I’ve got no problem with that because I’ve been a setup guy in the past,” Cordero said. “Being a closer for a long time, I know what to do. I’ve got to just treat the eighth inning like it’s the ninth inning.”

For his part, Santos, the closer designate, is respectful of Cordero, who is second to the great Mariano Rivera in saves among active pitchers. Rivera has a bit of a lead, 603 to 327.

“What he’s done speaks for itself,” said Santos. “I would be a fool not to try to learn as much as I can from him. I’ll be in that bullpen asking as many questions as I can in hope I can have a career like his.”

ALL'S WELL (SO FAR)

In the early days of spring training, the best answer a manager can hear when he asks “What’s up?” is, “Nothing, Skip.”

The only news that can come out of the first 10 days of camp is bad news and John Farrell knows it. He and his pitchers got through Day 1 unscathed.

“It was emphasized this morning when we talked to the group that no one is going to make the team on February 22 so they need to control their intensity,” said Farrell. “The volume will ramp up fairly quickly so we just want everybody to move along in a controlled fashion.”

More pitchers than enough have blown out an elbow or shoulder in training camp so it was satisfying for Farrell to single out Dustin McGowan.

“The most encouraging thing coming out of the bullpens today was the way Dustin (McGowan) threw the ball,” said Farrell. “He’s dealt with his challenges, not just from a performance standpoint but from a physical aspect.

“This is a difficult game. The guy on the mound can’t hide. He can’t be protected like some other positions on the field can, where you’re not the focal point the way the pitcher is.

“He doesn’t take added time to get into the flow of the session. He doesn’t need extra throws to get loose. The ball has good sink coming out of his hand. It is very encouraging.”

Rick Vandenhurk, who was cut loose last week by Baltimore, was officially added to the roster and will compete for a bullpen job.


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