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Romero ready to put rough 2012 in rearview

Former staff ace arrived at Spring Training feeling healthy and energized

Romero ready to put rough 2012 in rearview

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Ricky Romero is ready to turn the page on his disappointing 2012 season and start fresh in an attempt to re-establish himself as one of the better starting pitchers in the American League.

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Romero, who was Toronto's Opening Day starter last year, is fresh off a frustrating season during which he went 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA in 32 starts. The hard work and dedication was there on an everyday basis, but unfortunately for Romero and the Blue Jays, the positive results were not.

Now, Romero is hoping to put that disappointing campaign in his rear-view mirror. He's no longer the No. 1 starter, but with any luck he could become a major wild card in the team's chances of making a run at the postseason.

"You try to fix it from start to start and everything keeps going wrong," Romero said while reflecting back on last year. "A lot of it is mental. It takes a mental toll on you. You learn from it and I'm coming in with a clean mind and ready for whatever.

"I've always been confident in my pitching abilities; it's just another year where I do what I do."

Before Romero could completely forget about the disappointment from 2012, he first had to get over the injuries which plagued him for part of the season.

The first step was to receive platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections in each of his knees to help alleviate tendinitis. The painful procedure involves injecting portions of a patient's blood into the affected area with the hope that it accelerates the healing process.

The second step was to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow to clean up scar tissue that had developed in the area. The recovery time was approximately a month, and Romero appears ready to go, having already thrown off a mound several times before Spring Training officially opened on Tuesday.

Romero has been loath to use the injuries as an excuse for his poor performance in 2012, but admitted he'll never know just how much of a factor they were.

"It feels 100 times better," said Romero, who avoided the DL in 2012. "I wasn't able to rotate [the elbow] at one point, I was so sore at the end of the year. That's when I decided we should get it checked out. Right now, it feels great, pretty much back to how it should feel.

"The knees have been a work in progress. I think that's been the toughest part, that tendinitis doesn't go away easily. We've been hitting it hard every day, I'm here getting treatment, doing the small things, foam-rolling, stuff like that, just to kind of get them ready every day."

Romero arrived in Dunedin this week under very different circumstances than one year ago. Last season, he was the leader of an inexperienced staff with the expectation of carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders.

This year, Romero finds himself as the club's No. 5 starter. That has less to do with his performance in 2012 than it does the Blue Jays' eventful offseason, which included a series of substantial upgrades to the rotation.

Veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is now the undisputed ace, followed by returnee Brandon Morrow, veteran Mark Buehrle and hard-throwing righty Josh Johnson. It's an impressive mix of arms that can alternate between righties and lefties while also giving opposing teams an array of looks with pitchers who throw at vastly different velocities.

The influx of talent means Romero can step away from the leadership responsibilities and focus on his own game, but that doesn't mean there will be any less pressure. Last year, Romero appeared to become his own worst enemy by at times doubting his abilities on the mound, and he'll need to overcome those demons in order to regain his previous success.

"It feels good to have those guys in the rotation," Romero said. "It doesn't matter to me – [being No.] 1 or [No.] 5. You still have to go out and pitch and perform. If you don't perform, people are going to be quick to criticize you no matter what number in the rotation you are. Those five guys that we're throwing out there are pretty unbelievable. I'm just happy to be a part of that rotation."

The main goal is getting Romero back to his form from 2011, when he posted a 15-11 record with a 2.92 ERA in a career-high 225 innings of work. The process officially started on Thursday, when Romero threw his first bullpen of the spring under the watchful eye of manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Pete Walker.

It's virtually impossible to make any judgements based off a side session, but Gibbons still liked what he saw and believes there's a legitimate chance Romero will brush off the previous disappointment and once again become the pitcher Toronto has come to know.

"I really liked what Ricky was doing," Gibbons said. "It looked like the old guy.

"I didn't see him last year when he had his struggles, but I've seen him when he was really good when I was in Kansas City. He's a pretty good pitcher, he's done a lot of good things at this level. It's going to be a good bounce-back year for him."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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