Blue Jays' Romero looks award worthy

Blue Jays' Romero looks award worthy

OAKLAND -- Ricky Romero is looking less like a rookie as this season rolls along. It is that aspect -- the fact that the young left-hander has started to display the confidence of a seasoned veteran for the Blue Jays -- that could lead to Romero capturing the American League Rookie of the Year honor at the end of the year.

"He certainly has a chance," Toronto manager Cito Gaston said. "That'd be nice to see happen for him. He's a great kid."

On Sunday afternoon in Oakland, Romero added another solid outing to his big league resume, leading the Blue Jays to a 7-2 victory over the A's with seven innings. It was hardly his sharpest outing of the season, but Romero is reaching a point where damage control is becoming one of his specialties.

Beyond that, Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas said Romero has learned to trust his coaches and his catchers in terms of how to approach certain hitters and how to adjust to various situations. Consider what took place Sunday, when Toronto's offense pounded out five runs in the first inning.

Romero knew the early cushion was no reason to ease up.

"They did a good job," Romero said. "But your mentality still doesn't change. You've still got to go out there and pound the strike zone."

It is that type of mind-set and understanding that has helped Romero emerge as one of the top young pitchers in the game this season. With his latest showing, Romero improved to 10-4, moving him into a tie with Tampa Bay's Jeff Niemann for the most wins among Major League rookies. Romero struck out five against the A's, giving him 87 strikeouts on the season, tops among AL first-year pitchers.

Romero -- the sixth overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft -- will have plenty of competition for the Rookie of the Year Award. There is Niemann, Rick Porcello with the Tigers, Elvis Andrus with the Rangers and Gordon Beckham with the White Sox, among others. Romero said he has not spent any time comparing his performance to other rookies around the league.

"Not really," said Romero, who lowered his season ERA to 3.53. "I'm just trying to go out there and, like I've told you guys all along, have quality starts for my team. That's all I'm worried about -- just our team."

Over his past nine appearances, all Romero has done is post a 7-1 record with a 3.36 ERA, dating back to June 21. In the 35 games covering that stretch, the Blue Jays (51-54) have won only 14 games -- half of the wins coming in games the lefty was on the hill. Romero's latest outing helped Toronto secure its first series win on the road since sweeping the Phillies on June 16-18.

"The big thing with him is the confidence he has in himself," Barajas said. "When he goes out there, he truly believes he's going to pitch like he did today -- every time."

"The big thing with him is the confidence he has in himself. When he goes out there, he truly believes he's going to pitch like he did today -- every time."
-- Rod Barajas,
on Ricky Romero

Of course, it has helped that Romero has had 55 runs of support over his past seven wins -- an average of nearly eight runs per game. On Sunday, the Blue Jays scored five runs off A's right-hander Vin Mazzaro before recording an out. Aaron Hill opened the outburst with a two-run home run, and Alex Rios capped it off with a three-run double.

Toronto tacked on one run in the second inning, courtesy of an RBI single from Adam Lind, and another in the fifth on a solo homer from Barajas. The large lead enabled Romero to have more room for error, and he pounded fastball after fastball over the plate against the A's (44-60). Romero allowed two runs and scattered eight hits -- a sound enough showing for the win.

"Today was a good day," Romero said. "It came down to fastball control. That's what I've been working on these past couple starts, when I was struggling with control and walks. I went down to the bullpen and just kind of worked on fastball control and had a good fastball going today."

In the first inning, Romero allowed a one-out single to Oakland's Rajai Davis before inducing a grounder up the middle off the bat of Kurt Suzuki. Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald sprinted behind second base and snared the sharply hit ball with a diving grab. From his belly, McDonald used his glove to flip the ball to Hill at second to initiate an inning-ending double play.

"What can you say about Mac?" Gaston said. "That probably set the tone for us there a little bit."

Romero was in awe.

"Wow," he said. "He hit it, and I was just like, 'Wow, no way he got that.' That shows you that he's ready. He's ready all the time."

Oakland scored once in the second inning, when Scott Hairston singled to open the frame and later crossed the plate on a base hit from Mark Ellis. In the third, Romero allowed a run-scoring single to Suzuki. Aside from those two missteps, Romero stranded seven runners despite putting at least one aboard in every inning he pitched.

That aspect of Romero's outing impressed Gaston.

"He's just growing every time he goes out there," the manager said.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.