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Romero's rough start in Minors casts doubt on role

Left-hander throws less than half his pitches for strikes while working on mechanics

Romero's rough start in Minors casts doubt on role

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Ricky Romero's troubling Spring Training took another turn for the worse.

Toronto's left-hander started a Minor League game Thursday afternoon, but once again struggled to command the majority of his pitches.

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Romero was up in the zone for most of the afternoon and allowed four runs, walking five as he recorded only eight outs. He threw only 29 of his 64 pitches for strikes and has two Spring Training starts remaining to figure it out.

"We're trying to get him back on track," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "That's always been the gameplan. Obviously, he wants to get back on track, as well. You can never dictate when it's going to happen, when it's all going to come together.

"You'll see flashes, you'll see glimpses, but it's just for him putting it together from a consistency standpoint. We'll just continue to work at it."

Romero pitched against players who likely will start the year at the Class A Advanced level in an attempt to focus less on results and more on his altered mechanics.

The Blue Jays want Romero to pitch with his hips a little more squared to the plate. The hope is that the adjustment will provide a better finish to his pitches, while also improving overall command.

Romero began throwing that way in his last start against the Tigers and was back at it in the Minor League setting Thursday. There were glimpses of success, but the overall results were mixed.

He was unable to finish the first and second innings. Each frame ended with two out and runners on base as Romero reached his pitch limit and players were called off the field. The problems were less severe in the third, but Romero still surrendered a deep two-run homer to left before being pulled in the fourth with one out.

"It was a tough outing," pitching coach Pete Walker said. "I thought he started off well, a couple of seeing-eye ground balls -- which could have easily been ground-ball outs, which would have been nice to start the day. But it didn't go the way we anticipated.

"Initially, I think he made some strides with the delivery. The subtle changes he's making are a work in progress, and today, in that first inning, I thought it was a step in the right direction, and just the results weren't very good from the second through the fourth inning."

The Blue Jays have been adamant since the start of Spring Training that Romero's job as their No. 5 starter is not in doubt. Both the front office and coaching staff stated his spot was secure, but with less than two weeks to go until Opening Day, that stance could change.

Toronto had Walker and bullpen coach Pat Hentgen on hand to watch Romero's outing. Anthopoulos and assistant general manager Tony LaCava also skipped the club's road game in Port Charlotte, Fla., to watch Romero.

Anthopoulos opened the door -- at least slightly -- for the club to seek an alternative option for its fifth starter when asked if Romero's job was still guaranteed.

"We evaluate it start by start," Anthopoulos said. "We've said we have our five starters, he's one of our five starters. As we go through it, the first conversation I've had about it is right now.

"I'll talk to [manager John Gibbons], talk to Pete. We'll talk to the player, as well. We haven't had any change of plans. The plans are still the same, but just like anything else, you're constantly evaluating."

Anthopoulos was then further pressed on the issue by another reporter. A comment was made that Anthopoulos seemed to be saying Romero could potentially begin the year at Triple-A.

Pressed further -- and asked whether he was implying Romero could start the season with Triple-A Buffalo -- Anthopoulos attempted to downplay the speculation, but did not rule out the scenario. It appears that, for the first time this spring, the club is weighing all of its options with Romero.

"Right now, our plans haven't changed," Anthopoulos said. "I just got done seeing the performance and just giving my first thoughts, but we haven't even talked about it yet. Right now, everything is still status quo. We're still on course to have the team we were planning to have."

Romero's been down this road before and isn't exactly a stranger to pitching with his back against the wall.

He struggled with command while he played for Double-A New Hampshire, but overcame it to earn a promotion to the big leagues and enjoy three quality seasons before struggles arose again last year.

Romero posted a 9-14 record with a 5.77 ERA last season, walking a career-high 105 batters. The struggles carried over into the spring, and now Romero finds himself looking to prove he can overcome it once again.

The 28-year-old still has a pair of starts before the end of camp to solidify his role with the team. The problem is that he's trying to prove he can perform while also working through adjustments.

That's a daunting task for any pitcher in a results-based industry, but the hope and expectation still remains that he'll be ready to go once the season begins.

"I think so, it's happened before," said Romero, asked if there was enough time before Opening Day to make the necessary changes. "As much as I hate going to the past, three years ago I was really, really close to being sent down for the same reason, being inconsistent in the strike zone.

"It's something that can be fixed. We did it before in two weeks, and one day everything kind of clicks. It's about staying mentally strong, talking about it and just letting certain stuff out."

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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