Thursday, July 7, 2011

"We have a new ace here and his name is Ricky Romero."

R. Romero (L, 7-8)4.19663221.233.09

Ricky Romero is having a year. Record aside, his numbers across the board are very strong. Almost seven innings per start. Less than a hit per inning. ERA barely 3, FIP under 4.

But Ricky has a problem. He's got a boogeyman. Boogeymen are never good for professional athletes, be they Eric Lindros' brain, Jose Reyes' hamstrings or Roger Federer's Rafael Nadal. And unfortunately for Ricky, his bugaboo resides in the same division as he does, and projects to be a difficult obstacle for years to come.

If you'll recall, in his time here, Roy Halladay also had a problem team. The Texas Rangers touched him up for 7 wins and a 5.17 ERA, the highest surrendered to any American League team. To add injury to insult, six years ago tomorrow Kevin Mench lined a ball off of his leg that quite possibly cost him his (then-would-have-been) second Cy Young Award.

But Roy Halladay's Ranger problem was never quite as bad as this whole Ricky-Red Sox thing. For one thing, Roy Halladay has 20 career starts against the Rangers in 13 seasons; Romero has faced the Red Sox eleven times in less than 3. It was one thing to shrug off the odd uncharacteristic Halladay start, but it's quite another to endure Romero shitting the bed four times a year in key interdivision matchups. For another, the Red Sox have absolutely killed Romero in a way that the Rangers never dominated Halladay: ERA over 8, OPS over 1, IP/S under 5. As much as the Rangers made Halladay seem mortal, the Red Sox transform Ricky Romero into Jo-Jo Reyes at his worst. (It can be argued that 50 innings is too small a sample, but when those 50 innings are as awful as they have been, the argument evaporates a bit. If Ricky Romero throws complete game shutouts in his next six starts against the Bostonians, his ERA against the Red Sox will still be worse than his career number.)

But this post isn't about that whole Red Sox thing. That's been covered. I'm merely wondering why, given  all of the above numbers, given Romero's lack of Halladay-an credentials in general, he was left in to absorb so much punishment last night.

It began when Bruce Walton came to the mound in the fourth inning with two out, two on, one in and Yamaico Navarro at the plate. Buck and Pat commented that Walton's conversation was not with Romero but with Arencibia. At first I didn't know what to make of this, but it quickly occurred to me that it's a sign of respect. Roy Halladay don't need no pitching coach, but he might need a breather once in a while. Coach comes out, makes small talk with the catcher, goes back to the dugout and lets Halladay (or, in this case, Ricky) do his thing. That's fair; Romero has been very good this year, and the game was still tied going into the Navarro at bat. If you think Romero's your man in a 3-3 game in the fourth inning, then Romero's your man.

But then Romero, of course, went on to allow back-to-back doubles off the wall. At that point it was 6-3, and the specter of Romero's previous struggles against the team in question was beginning to loom. The second of those two doubles was surrendered to the left-handed hitter Ellsbury, and I think it's fair to say that many pitchers would have been pulled from the game at that point provided the pen had adequate rest (and given Cecil's CG the previous night, that was a moot point). At that point, Romero had allowed 5 straight hits to face the heart of the highest-run-producing offense in baseball. The game was still within reach, and with two right-handed hitters coming to the plate, there was a potential matchup to play.

I do remember the odd Halladay game where one early rough inning would prove his undoing; a couple of fourth-inning bleeders, a walk, a three-run homer and he'd be down 5-0. Then he'd go back out there for the fifth and throw five shutout innings. They were hiccups, flukey innings that happen because even the best ain't perfect. But they wouldn't faze Doc. There would be some browsweat, a handful of expletives, and then the Halladay we all knew and loved would reappear. Rarely was Halladay knocked out of the game, and that may have been the Jays' thinking following the Ellsbury double. "It's one bad inning. Let's shut it down and let Ricky Romero get back to being Ricky Romero." It was somewhat strange thinking given the early homers he'd also surrendered, but it was a certain level of ace treatment, which is fair.

So, with Ellsbury on second, Ricky Romero faces Marco Scutaro. And Ricky Romero walks Marco Scutaro. And this is where the Halladay comparisons come to an end. Roy Halladay does not walk your backup shortstop to face your former MVP, thank you very much. At this point, it's Shawn Camp time.

But Farrell doesn't move. He leaves Ricky in to face Dustin Pedroia, and Ricky somehow induces a weak grounder back to the mound. The throw to first nearly takes off for the right field corner, but Lind squeezes it and Ricky Romero's Red Sox nightmare is finally over. Right?

Wrong. Because after the Jays don't score in the top of the fifth, there's Romero on the mound to start the bottom half.  Only after allowing two of the first three batters to reach is he finally, mercifully pulled.

It was not a performance with a silver lining. Just one shutout inning. More walks than strikeouts. Five extra-base hits and at least one Green Monster single. He allowed almost as many baserunners as he recorded outs.

Perhaps it's psychological. Perhaps, as Pat and Buck insinuated during the broadcast, the Red Sox are the only team in baseball that has picked up on his tell. Or perhaps it's simply a matter of a lineup stacked with really, really good hitters facing a pitcher who lacks the stuff to dominate them.

I'm not sure why the Jays didn't take Romero out earlier. It didn't cost them any runs after the Ellsbury hit, but it's hard to look at a stretch where 8/10 batters faced reached base safely and not feel as if the pitcher was overexposed. I imagine there were developmental reasons, that the Jays really, really want Romero to be that guy who can be counted on every single start, even if they have to force the issue.

But at the end of the day, there's only one Roy Halladay.

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