The Blue Jays confirmed the obvious by sending both pitchers to Minor League camp on Wednesday morning. The moves hardly came as a surprise, but they do provide some more clarity as to the makeup of Toronto's starting rotation.
If there was any doubt about the pitchers' immediate future with the club, it was erased Tuesday when the two combined to allow 10 runs and eight walks over just three innings vs. Detroit. The Blue Jays decided later that night to make the cuts.
"That didn't help, but we just feel like they both need more work," manager John Gibbons told reporters Wednesday. "As far as Ricky, he's moving in the right direction. We really like what he did this camp, just go down there and polish it up. Stro, he was kind of the odd man out. He had trouble throwing strikes yesterday, he needs to do that. They both need more work."
The cuts leave four pitchers competing for two spots in the starting rotation. Right-hander Drew Hutchison is all but officially guaranteed a role, while the other opening will come down to J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers or Todd Redmond.
Happ had been the early favorite for the final spot and recently received a vote of confidence from Gibbons, but the left-hander had another rough outing Wednesday vs. the Phillies. With just under two weeks remaining, there's still time for the outlook to change once again.
The problem is that none of the final three contenders for the job have really stepped up and seized the opportunity. Statistics in Spring Training always have to be taken with a grain of salt, but the fact that Rogers (7.00 ERA over nine innings), Redmond (5.79 ERA in 14 innings) and Happ (20.25 over four innings) have struggled this much is nonetheless alarming.
That has left pitching coach Pete Walker desperately searching for the positives as the season rapidly approaches with so many uncertainties still facing his staff.
"I think it's shaping up," Walker said just prior to Wednesday's game. "We want to see J.A. feel good after these next couple of outings, R.A. Dickey has thrown the ball as well as I've seen him throw the ball, he's in a great place right now.
"Mark Buehrle is Mark Buehrle, the ball is coming out of his hand, the velocity is where it needs to be. I think the command has been excellent, he feels great and it's probably one of his better springs as far as how he feels."
Tuesday's outing against the Tigers marked a bitter end to camp for Romero. Toronto's former No. 1 starter has gone through two full years of frustration but finally had some positive outings to build from this spring. Romero entered the game against Detroit having allowed just one earned run in seven innings, and he seemed to be regaining his positive outlook.
There were still plenty of warning signs, though, as Romero issued five walks during those seven innings. A lack of command has been his main nemesis in each of the past two seasons, and it's something that has yet to be fixed. That much became even more clear when Romero walked five batters -- including four in a row -- vs. the Tigers.
The Blue Jays now have to hope that Romero forgets about that outing and instead focuses on his previous two outings, in which he at least appeared to be taking steps in the right direction.
"I'm basing everything on how good he has been this spring," Gibbons said. "If we didn't see that, gosh, when's it going to happen? But he showed us enough in his previous two outings before yesterday, that hey, it's coming. It's a long road, you never really know if a guy is going to make it back from that, but he started to show signs of it.
"[Tuesday], he wasn't as good, but it reaffirmed, hey, start him down there, but he's moving in the right direction. It's not a common thing that happens when guys start losing some things, but some guys have come back from that. It's not an easy thing to do, so we feel for the guy."
It likely won't take very long for Stroman to become a factor this season. He's expected to start the year in Triple-A, and he needs a little more seasoning in the Minors before making it to the next level. The command needs to be refined and his changeup remains a work in progress, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his future.
The biggest challenge for Stroman has been keeping the ball out of harm's way. It's something he can probably get away with in the lower levels of the Minors, but he was punished for it when matched up against big league hitters this spring.
"He just has to keep the ball down in the zone, it's going to be a conscious effort, pitch after pitch, to stay down in the zone," Walker said. "He does tend to get a little flat, and he needs to stay on top of his breaking stuff.
"But we had a good conversation today, he knows what he needs to go down and work on. ... He has a great head on his shoulders for a young kid, and I think he's going to go down there and do what he needs to do to get back to the Major Leagues."