DUNEDIN - It’s before noon and already Ricky Romero says his day is headed in the right direction.
He had a “good session” of long toss with Brandon Morrow, letting his “athletic ability take over.”
And he has a new motivational message on his cell: “Men’s best successes come after disappointment.” — Henry Ward Beecher.
Even though it’s a new season, Romero has the same problems as a year ago when he lost 13 games in a row.
The Blue Jays’ left-hander has been told by manager John Gibbons this spring: “This happens to a lot of starters. You’re good enough. Don’t get discouraged. You won 51 games in four years. A lot of guys would take that.”
Romero was told by pitching coach Pete Walker: “It’s there. You see glimpses. You handled all of last year. You want the ball.”
Bullpen coach Pat Hentgen has told Romero: “Be a bulldog. Be athletic.”
“Every year, there is a bump in the road,” Romero said Friday sitting at his locker in the Jays clubhouse in the right field corner of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. “Everyone here trusts me.”
This spring, the road has been bumpier than the Gardiner Expressway during each spring pot-hole season: A 7.27 ERA in 82/3 innings against major-league, competition, allowing 11 hits and seven earned runs, while walking seven.
And on Thursday, in 21/3 innings, he gave up four runs — three earned — on five hits and five walks against Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor-leaguers.
“I went through this in double-A, and again in the spring of 2009. They were about to send me down when (pitching coach) Brad Arnsberg said: ‘Give me two weeks with him,’” said Romero, who made 29 starts as a rookie that season.
We remember after his second start in Minneapolis — two runs in eight innings — he explained that his success was due to his “bulldog” attitude. How did he compare his approach that March outing against the New York Yankees when he walked the bases full and gave up a homer to Alex Rodriguez?
Romero joked that he’d been “a baby puppy” that day at Dunedin.
The Jays’ opening-day starter from last April has two starts remaining this spring: Tuesday and one more. Is there enough time to impress?
Does he have enough credit in the bank from 124 starts since his first win — April 9, 2009 against the Detroit Tigers — that he needs to audition?
“Last year, I didn’t allow an earned run all spring,” said Romero, who finished with a 5.77 ERA. “The year before, I had a 7.91 ERA (2.92 during the season).
“It’s spring training. My goal is to have a good year.”
This was supposed to be a month with few questions to answer for the Jays.
Not for Romero, the new hot button for the fans.
“I’m not shying away,” he said. “I know no one feels sorry for me. I’m not complacent. When I leave here today, I’m not walking out with my tail between my legs. Eventually, things will work out.”
Last July, a day after Romero allowed eight runs in 11/3 innings to the Oakland A’s, manager John Farrell asked: “Where’s the tough kid from East L.A.?”
“It didn’t bother me,” said Romero, the Jays’ first-round pick from Cal-State Fullerton in 2005.
Far from it. He’d heard it before.
“My college pitching coach, Dave Serrano, used to say that to me: ‘Show me that tough East L.A. kid. You are of Mexican heritage. Everyone knows how passionate (you are) and the work ethic people from Mexico have. Let’s go!’”
Romero points out that he walked 82 hitters in 2010 (210 innings) and 80 walks in ’11 (225 innings) and didn’t hear complaints about control. In 2012, he had an American League-high 105 walks in 181 innings.
“I have to go into these last two starts, be athletic and throw strikes, fight harder,” Romero said.
Now, they are tinkering with his mechanics because he throws across his body. Yet, he always threw across his body.
Re-reading Henry Ward Beecher’s quote, Romero says: “It’s what you do when you get back up that people remember.”
Romero says he is healthy. And he should be praised for his attitude.
But for this all-in season, do the Jays go north with their five best? Or their four best and someone struggling coming off a bad year?
If spring outings and at-bats mean little to scouts and evaluators — as we’ve been told since 1981 — is it fair to leave Romero behind?
He’s not suffering from a lack of confidence as Roy Halladay did in 2001.
Inside the huge clubhouse are lockers on each wall with a double row down the middle.
Romero had sat, third occupied locker from the end on the north side, to discuss his spring.
Hours later, standing at the third occupied locker from the end on the south side, was lefty J.A. Happ, who wants to be the fifth man. Happ was discussing his six shutout innings, surrounded by 14 people with cameras, note pads and microphones.
The contrast was staggering.