Blue Jays starting pitcher Ricky Romero walks to the dugout after being pulled against the Rays at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Sept. 2, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
TORONTO - What to do about Ricky?
The good vibes and positive energy that Toronto Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero acquired from his uplifting start in the Bronx last week against the New York Yankees vanished into the bright blue sky where the planes in the city's air show circled above the Rogers Centre on Sunday like a flock of vultures.
Against the Yankees, Romero turned in a stellar seven innings as he allowed just five hits and two runs in a losing cause. The outing drew bucketfuls of praise from Jays manager John Farrell and the hope was that it would finally signal that the embattled left-hander had finally turned a corner in the nightmare that has become his 2012 season.
The outing in the Bronx, however, proved to be nothing more than a mirage. A canard, if you will.
Against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that ranks near the bottom of the league in hitting, Romero had his most humiliating day of the season Sunday in a game Toronto would lose 9-4.
“It’s tough, it’s tough to hear boos from your own fans,” Romero said. “It’s tough to see your teammates, they go out and battle every day. And it’s tough for me. It’s been stressful. But at the same time, you’ve just got to come ready to work.”
After allowing a run on four hits in the first inning, Romero wasn’t able to retire a batter in the second. Not a one.
The unkindest cut of all came courtesy of the first batter he faced in the second in Ben Francisco, who opened the year with the Jays and was part of Toronto's 10-player deal in July with the Houston Astros.
On a 1-2 pitch, Francisco hit one on the screws and deposited it over the fence for his first home run of the season.
Unnerved by that development, Romero followed up by walking Carlos Pena, a first baseman who sports the lowest batting average in the league (.188)
After the walk, the Rays rapped out five consecutive hits as they went double, RBI single, RBI single, single, two-run single.
Following the two-run single by Ben Zobrist, Farrell had seen enough and called on Chad Jenkins to replace Romero.
The Rays would add one more run in the inning, that too being charged against Romero.
So the final line for Romero was one inning plus seven batters, eight hits, seven runs, one walk, no strikeouts. He would throw all of 46 pitches, which marked the lowest pitch count and shortest outing of his career.
In the clubhouse, Romero looked both bewildered and bemused, as if he can’t believe he’s trapped in the pitching hell where he has dwelled the past two months.
The loss was also his 12th in a row from his past 13 outings. His earned-run average, which was 5.50 before the game, climbed to 5.85.
Since his last win on June 22, Romero has been 0-12 with a horrific 7.98 ERA.
So where does he go from here? Who does he turn to now? Is he completely out of answers?
“Yeah. I mean what more can I say?” he said. “It’s worn on me. I was born a winner and going through something like this, I never wish it upon anyone. It’s tough.”
Romero added he’s received all the advice and encouragement in the world from his coaches, teammates and the other players in the league.
“I’ve had advice from a lot of people, even from opponents,” he said. “The guy that pitched against me today (David Price), their all-star third baseman (Evan Longoria). A lot of guys from other teams have been supportive. They know what it’s like to play this game and the struggles and ups and downs.”
What do they tell him?
“Keep going. Keep moving forward,” Romero replied. “Eventually you think that it’s going to turn around. For some reason for me it’s taken a while. I’ve had some bad outings, I’ve had some good outings. Like I said, I’ve just got to keep moving.”
Offensively, the Jays were almost as hopeless against Price as Romero was against the Rays.
The Jays got to him in the seventh for two runs without getting the ball out of the infield. Their rally consisted of three infield singles, a walk and an RBI pop-up in foul ground.
In the ninth, Edwin Encarnacion added a two-run home run against Cesar Ramos.
The Jays opened the four-game series with a couple of wins in low-scoring affairs.
They got nipped Saturday when the Rays threw out Omar Vizquel at the plate for the final out of the game in a 5-4 loss.