The main topic around the water cooler this week will probably be the impressive performance from Merryweather, and with good reason. The 29 year old has been outstanding over his first two appearances, picking up two saves and striking out five of the six batters he’s faced thus far. You literally couldn’t ask for a much better start from the right-hander, but it might also be due in part to the support from Romano.
On Sunday the Blue Jays got to the the late innings and Charlie Montoyo showed that he may not stick to one closer, even with Merryweather getting the ball for the second straight to opportunity. It might sound odd that I’d say that after Merryweather picked up his second consecutive save, but it was the way things played out that caught my eye, especially in the eighth inning, which is when Romano entered the game.
At that point the Yankees were bringing their most dangerous hitters to the plate in DJ LeMathieu and Aaron Judge, followed by three and four hitters Aaron Hicks and Gleyber Torres. At that point Montoyo turned to Romano, even if many viewed him as the most likely to take over in the closer’s role after Kirby Yates was lost for the year to injury. Instead, the Blue Jays skipper used Romano in the eighth inning as a “fireman”, facing the best the Yankees had to offer. The strategy worked well too, as Markham, Ontario native retired the side in order.
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As much as I’m sure Montoyo wanted to see what Merryweather could do with a second save opportunity, I’d be willing to bet that his use of Romano had more to do with his decision making on Sunday, and it could be a strategy we see going forward as well. Merryweather has been a revelation through his first two outings, but we have to keep in mind that it’s an extremely small sample size, and counting on him as the closer for the entire season might be a bit premature, even if he’s been absolutely electric.
As good as he’s been, Romano has looked pretty solid too, even if he walked a pair in his first appearance on Thursday. That outing was encouraging in another way though, as the Canadian hurler was able to keep his composure and work himself out of trouble, and then bounce back with a flawless inning on Sunday. As Dan Shulman said on yesterday’s broadcast, Romano’s skill set screams “late inning reliever” both because of his physical gifts, and also from the way he prepares in the bullpen.
If the Blue Jays have the luxury of leaning on Merryweather to nail down the ninth inning most of the time, that could also allow them to use Romano as a “fireman” of sorts. As he did on Sunday, he could line up against the best hitters in the opposing lineup, whether that happens in the eighth or ninth inning, or even occasionally in the 7th inning at an important juncture.
You might remember the way that Cleveland used Andrew Miller from 2016-17 at a time when he was arguably the best reliever in baseball. He had a 1.55 ERA and a 0.552 WHIP over 26 appearances after he arrived in a mid-season trade, and followed it up with a 1.44 and a 0.830 WHIP over 57 frames in 2017. As dominant as he was, he only picked up five saves for Cleveland over those two seasons. Instead of saving him for the ninth, the un-hittable southpaw was utilized in the highest leverage situations in the later part of the game, regardless of what inning it came up.
I’m not suggesting that Romano is on quite the same level that Miller was pitching at back then, but I would argue that he’s the best reliever in the Blue Jays bullpen. I’m not trying to throw cold water on Merryweather at all either, and I’m as excited about his early performance as you are. I’m just trying not to get too far ahead of myself here with the newest bullpen weapon, or forget what others bring to the table in the late innings.
As exciting as it is to see Merryweather’s emergence in the ninth inning, it’s equally as encouraging to think about how that could free up Romano for another job, like a fireman role, and make the bullpen that much better.