Blue Jays fans will be watching with added interest on Wednesday evening when Ricky Romero takes the mound against Seattle. Romero, who has struggled immensely in 2012, was skipped in the rotation in the hopes that the extra rest and bullpen sessions would enable him to work through the kinks that have lead to a disappointing 8-13 record, an ERA of 5.85, and a WAR of -1.8.
He’ll get to face a Mariners team that ranks dead last in Major League Baseball with a .233 batting average and 28th in runs scored with 539, making this a good team to find a groove against. However, this is also a Mariners team that jumped on Brandon Morrow on Tuesday night and won that game 4-3 over Toronto. In the process, Romero will be attempting to put a 12-game personal losing streak behind him.
Ricky Romero is hardly the only staff ace to struggle in 2012. What exasperates his struggles is where he was just a season ago. Romero is coming off a season where he established career highs in wins (15), strike-outs (178), and WAR (6.2), while also establishing career-lows in ERA (2.92) and WHIP (1.138). Those numbers helped to garner Romero his first-ever top-10 finish in the American League Cy Young voting.
At 27-years-old, one would almost expect him to maintain the trend rather than regress from it. However, there were three other career highs set during that 2011 campaign that should have tipped the hat on 2012; 225 innings-pitched, a 1.76 GB/FB ratio, and 26 home runs allowed.
The innings mark, his second consecutive 200 innings-pitched season, have lead some to believe that Romero, and the Jays for that matter, are hiding an injury. His pitch selection, as according to FanGraphs, is not doing much to dispel those thoughts either. They show that he’s gone away from relying on his fastball, down from 60.5% to 46% in 2012, to relying on his offspeed pitches more often, specifically his curveball (13.4%) and his cutter (22.4%).
Regardless of cause, Romero’s start on Wednesday will likely give the Jays a good idea of what their offseason plans should be for their fallen ace. There will definitely be some fine tuning in the works, but just how much will be displayed in these final few starts of the season. The Blue Jays will need Romero front, center, and productive in 2013 when the nucleus of their pitching staff, including Henderson Alvarez, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Hutchison are all healthy and back to full strength.
It’s up to Romero if he still wants to be top dog in that group.