DUNEDIN, Fla. -- In a move that nobody could have predicted a year ago, the Blue Jays optioned left-hander Ricky Romero to Class A Dunedin on Tuesday evening.
Romero goes from being the club's Opening Day starter in 2012 to not cracking its 25-man roster the following spring. It's a shocking twist in an otherwise uneventful Spring Training for a team that entered camp with its roster basically set in stone.
The Blue Jays opened camp by saying Romero was guaranteed a spot in the rotation, but that message changed in the past two weeks when they put him through a series of mechanical adjustments on the mound. There simply was a lot of work left to do and not enough outings in Spring Training to get everything done.
"We saw a lot of good things and he was fine, but it's not the Ricky we know he can be," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "We can try to just keep going, and when you're at the big league level, it's hard to continue working on things, or take a little more time, get him back to where he can be.
"It's always a tough conversation, but he knows he's not exactly as sharp as he needs to be, and he knows it's going to take a little bit more time."
Romero, who wasn't available for comment, has been one of Toronto's most valuable pitchers since he first broke into the Major Leagues in 2009. By '11, he had become the Blue Jays' No. 1 starter following the departure of Shaun Marcum, and Romero responded with a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA en route to his appearance at an All-Star Game.
The following season Romero once again was named the No. 1 starter, but things didn't go nearly as well. Romero began the year with an 8-1 record, but that masked some struggles on the mound as evidenced by a 4.34 ERA and 46 walks in 95 1/3 innings.
The problems got worse from there, as Romero battled control issues and at times a seeming lack of confidence on the mound. Romero was also dealing with tendinitis in both of his knees, but he pitched through the discomfort and went 1-13 the rest of the way with an alarming 7.35 ERA.
In spite of that, it wasn't until this spring that the club noticed a flaw in Romero's delivery. He had always thrown across his body, but was doing so more drastically now and wasn't maintaining a straight line to the plate.
The Blue Jays attempted to have Romero make the adjustments in mid-March, but there wasn't enough time to get everything done before the start of the season.
"It's not results as much as we see some things he needed to change," Anthopoulos said of Romero, who had a 6.23 ERA this spring. "You talk about direction and lines to the plate, it's basically your balance going to home plate and where your front foot lands. It sounds easy, but it just takes time when you start repeating it.
"He has done this before, he just has a tendency to do it. It's one thing if you're just not getting results and you just have to continue to pitch and get out of it. We have a plan for him. We know what we need to address. It's just not coming as fast as we wanted it to come."
The fact that Romero has been sent all the way down to Dunedin will be a familiar development for followers of the Blue Jays, as the club took the same approach with right-hander Roy Halladay back in 2001. Halladay went through all three levels of the Minors that season before eventually rejoining the Blue Jays and establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the game.
But Anthopoulos says Halladay's situation isn't comparable to the one currently facing Romero. Halladay had a complete overhaul of his mechanics, whereas the Blue Jays have continually described Romero's changes as "minor."
Anthopoulos also said that the decision to send Romero all the way down to Class A had more to do with the climate than the level of competition he's set to face.
"We thought about where we would send him, we ultimately decided, the other affiliates it's cold, rainouts, we want to make sure he gets his work in," Anthopoulos said.
"We're going to continue to work with him down here where it's warm, where can get his work in, and really just continue to get the direction of the plate because he's making strides. Like we told him, we just ran out of time in getting him to where he needs to be."
The Blue Jays will now hand the No. 5 starter's job to J.A. Happ. The veteran left-hander has been one of the club's most reliable starting pitchers this spring, but until Tuesday, he had been expected to begin the season at Triple-A Buffalo.
Happ put lots of pressure on Romero this spring by posting a 1.89 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 19 innings. The controversy over who should become the club's final starter seemed to grow with every outing, but Anthopoulos said the decision didn't have anything to do with how well Happ performed.
The final call ultimately came down to Romero and his flawed mechanics. There's a belief that Romero will eventually get back on track, but when that occurs is anybody's guess.
"Obviously we have to move forward, but I have no idea what the roster's going to look like, what's going to happen," Anthopoulos said. "Obviously, if he gets back to where he can be, he's one of the best starters in the game and I think he ends up being on anybody's team at that point, certainly ours.
"But without trying to forecast what happens a week from now, three weeks from now, a month from now, it's impossible to say. But I can't wait for that day to come, when he's ready and he's back to what he was."