One of the only "sure things" for the Toronto Blue Jays heading into the 2023 season was the back end of the bullpen. While there were question marks about filling out the rotation and the final composition of the relief corps, one pitcher that manager John Schneider and pitching coach Pete Walker didn't have to worry about was Jordan Romano.
The 30-year-old closer, who cemented himself in the role with a strong end to 2021 and a phenomenal 2022 season, came into training camp knowing the ninth inning would be his and his alone.
Things started well for the kid from Markham, as he converted four straight save opportunities on the team's grueling season-opening road trip through St. Louis, Kansas City, and Los Angeles. But on the last day of the trip, the wheels fell off against the Angels in a wild 12-11, 10-inning win.
He gave up three runs and took the blown save, but it was just a blip ... right? After a few more rough outings and some blown saves in April, the fanbase started getting restless. The Romano defenders got to work quelling concerns about the Jays closer, who had at one point converted 31 consecutive saves across 2021-2022.
While some were fretting in the early going, Romano just went out and did his job, posting 12 saves through the first two months of the season. He blew three opportunities and had a 3.00 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 21 innings.
Sure, the right-hander wasn't perfect — very few are — but he was about as close as possible. He cruised to the All-Star break with 26 saves, and still only the three blown saves, with a 4-4 record, a 2.87 ERA, and 48 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings. He earned his second straight All-Star invite, finishing the first half tied for the most saves in the majors.
Things got rocky for Romano at the All-Star Game
It was after Romano left his All-Star appearance with back tightness that Jays fans started to worry about their closer again. At first, it seemed like he dodged a bullet, but eventually, the star closer landed on the IL with lower back inflammation at the of July.
Between his time missed to the infirmary and the trade deadline acquisition of flamethrower Jordan Hicks, Romano appeared in 20 games in the second half and was, on occasion, used before the ninth inning. He registered 10 more saves, with one blown save and three losses, while Hicks siphoned off four save opportunities.
There was some uncertainty whether Romano still had a firm hold on the closer role as the team headed toward the end of the season after he coughed up a couple of games in back-to-back outings against the Rays and Yankees in the final week of September. After losing the second game, when he was called upon in a 0-0 tie, he received a vote of confidence from his manager, per MLB.com's Keegan Matheson.
“Closers have such a unique personality and demeanor,” Schneider said. “He knows that if It’s late in the game, no matter what the score is, we’re bringing him in to face the guys we want him to face. I think that’s just a coincidence, what his numbers are in save situations, non-save or ties. He has the same demeanor every time he goes out. It’s weird the way it’s worked out, for sure.”
In the end, Romano did what a closer should do
When all was said and done, Romano's 2023 campaign is one Blue Jays fans would have gladly taken at the beginning of the year. While it wasn't always pretty, he finished the year with a 2.90 ERA, 36 saves, a pair of holds, just the four blown saves, a 5-7 record, and 72 strikeouts in 59 innings.
Per Romano's Baseball Savant page, he improved in a number of areas from 2022:
Avg. Exit Velo.
How does his season stack up against the other top-tier closers? His 36 saves were the fourth-most in the majors and second in the American League to Cleveland's Emmanuel Clase's 44 — note that Clase took 12 (!) blown saves and nine losses.
Here are the top six save-getters in the majors this season:
After the ups and downs and with the offense being less-than-potent much of the year, Romano ended up being one of the reasons the 2023 Blue Jays had as much success as they did. If he shows up in 2024 with a repeat performance, we should all be happy.
Previous report cards:
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- José Berríos
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- Cavan Biggio
- The Buffalo Boys
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- Matt Chapman
- Adam Cimber
- Santiago Espinal
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- Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
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