DUNEDIN, Florida - A check of the calendar confirms it's 2013 but it was Ricky Romero, Version 2012 on the mound Saturday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
"(I) felt a little off compared to my first two starts," said Romero during the Blue Jays 4-2 win over the Tigers. "I felt like I was rushing pretty much all game and I couldn't make an adjustment quick. Obviously, three walks is what kills you and if there's anything I'm disappointed in, it's that."
"I thought he was a little bit off, his command," said manager John Gibbons, echoing Romero's assessment. "I thought his first couple of outings were pretty good. He mixed in a little more off-speed stuff (Saturday,) which primarily was contributing to (the control problems)."
This early in spring, pitchers are working on regaining the command of their pitches and often don't approach hitters the way they would in the regular season. But hearing Romero discuss "rushing" his pitches – he's battling himself on the mound – brings back memories of last season that fans and Romero himself wish to suppress.
"I think, kind of taking a step back, taking that deep breath more than anything," said Romero of his most pressing adjustment. "I think sometimes I get in such a rush, getting the ball, getting up there and firing away. Today it showed; I definitely need to slow the game down a little bit."
The line wasn't pretty: Two innings, two runs (one earned) on three hits including a home run by left-hand hitting Andy Dirks, three walks, and a second inning wild pitch which cashed the Tigers' second run. Romero was scheduled to throw three innings but was shut down early after a 30-pitch second ran him over his 45-pitch limit.
Last season, Romero shared the league lead with San Diego's Edinson Volquez, handing out 105 free passes. He's walked five in 5.2 innings this spring.
The first walk Saturday was to the game's leadoff hitter, Jeff Kobernus, after Romero had gotten ahead 0-2.
"You kind of smell it, you're 0-2 and you want to put the guy away," said Romero. "Maybe sometimes, especially right now in the spring, I'm overthrowing a little bit or coming off my delivery instead of being nice and smooth. That can't happen, 0-2, especially when you're ahead of the hitter, you can't walk guys like that."
Mark Buehrle has challenged Romero to cut down on the walks. Gibbons believes part of Romero's issue is related to his style of pitching.
"Ricky's not that finesse, fine, pinpoint controller," said Gibbons. "He's never going to be that. We want him to cut down on his walks but he's still going to walk guys, that's just the way he pitches. He was a little bit off."
"Walks are part of the game," said Romero. "Some of the greats have had a lot of walks. It happens... I'm not going to let it bother me. I still have to go out there and make pitches. Sometimes you walk three or four guys and get into the eighth inning, the walks become irrelevant unless they score."
After two hits, an error by shortstop Ryan Goins, two walks and a wild pitch led to Detroit's second inning run, Romero escaped further damage by inducing a groundball from veteran Torii Hunter. Romero threw three sinkers to Hunter, worth noting as Romero tries this spring to throw his best pitch more often.
There also are physical concerns. Romero had offseason elbow surgery – a relatively minor procedure that's healed – but continues to battle tendinitis in both knees. He says he's managing but acknowledged earlier in the spring to having "good days and not so good days."
Couple the physical grind with Romero's tendency to be hard on himself, which Gibbons owes to Romero's intense nature, and there's reason to worry. Still, the left-hander says nothing from Saturday's outing will linger.
"No, I don't think so, I'm not going to get frustrated over this," said Romero. "If it starts happening during the year, obviously, you've got to look for it. It's spring and if I'm going to make the mistakes, I'm going to make them now and that's all there is to it."
Romero will be back at it, likely Friday in Lakeland for a rematch with the Tigers.
- Centerfielder Colby Rasmus returned to the Blue Jays lineup on Saturday after missing more than a week with a strained pectoral and an impingement in a shoulder muscle. Rasmus, 26, was injured while taking batting practice. He went 0-2 with a walk, fouling out in the first and striking out in the third before reaching base in his final plate appearance in the fifth.
- Right-hander Dave Bush, a non-roster invite, got the win on Saturday and finds himself with a 3-0 record for the spring. Bush has an outside shot, at best, of breaking camp with the Blue Jays.
- Sergio Santos, working through triceps inflammation, was scheduled to play catch on Saturday and throw off a mound on Sunday. He hopes to pitch in Wednesday's game against the Pirates in Bradenton. "That's not 100-percent," said Santos. "But I think that's where we're heading; that's where I'd like to be. I'd like to get on the bump again. Everything feels good, we let everything calm down, the inflammation got out of there so it's nice to take the time now and then move on." Santos felt pain in his triceps after Sunday's one-inning outing against the Phillies; he says it's nothing that would keep him out of an important game.
- Casey Janssen is pleased with his progress as he works back from offseason shoulder surgery. "Definitely got a smile on my face with where we are and the time left (in spring training,)" said Janssen. Janssen has thrown three bullpen sessions in the last week and plans to be back on a mound again on Monday or Tuesday.
- Yankees closer Mariano Rivera announced Saturday morning that he will retire after the 2013 season. "He's a special guy, everybody knows that," said manager John Gibbons. "He's one of the all-time greats and I'm sure he'll go out in style. You know he's going to have a good year, he always does. It'll be a big loss for baseball, not only the way he did it on the field but the way he carried himself, with a lot of class, that's what really elevates him." Rivera, 43, is the all-time major league saves leader with 608. He went down for the remainder of last season on May 3 in Kansas City when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during batting practice. The future Hall of Famer has a career postseason ERA of 0.70 and his 42 playoffs saves are the most in major league history.
- The Blue Jays host the Yankees at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on Sunday. The game will mark the third meeting between the two teams this spring. The Blue Jays have taken the first two matchups without allowing a run. Toronto won 2-0 at Steinbrenner Field on February 24 and 1-0 on February 28.
Sunday's pitching lineup is as follows:
J.A. Happ (starter – 4 innings)
Brett Cecil (2)
Ramon Ortiz (2)
Alex Hinshaw (1)
It's nothing more than a schedule quirk but interesting to note that after Sunday, Happ will have started each of the Blue Jays' three spring games against the Yankees.
Toronto plays the Yankees one more time in Grapefruit League play, this Thursday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.