Ex-promising Blue Jays pitcher knows exactly how Alek Manoah feels, offers him advice

Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays
Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays / Tom Szczerbowski/GettyImages

A high first round draft pick, a promising start to their career, All-Star recognition. You'd be forgiven for thinking we're describing Alek Manoah.

However, this also describes the first few years of Ricky Romero's major league career. We apologize if you suddenly felt a slight shudder go down the back of your spine.

And if you did get an eerie feeling, it's likely because you remember how Romero's career played out. Blue Jays fans everywhere will be hoping a similar fate does not await Manoah.

Early promise

Romero arrived in Toronto with high expectations, after being selected sixth overall in the 2005 draft. Following early injury issues -- a prelude of things to come -- he worked his way through the system and made his MLB debut in 2009.

Following two decent seasons, the southpaw announced himself to the baseball world with an excellent 2011 campaign. Highlighted by a 2.92 ERA, he went 15-11 in 32 starts, was named an All-Star and received a couple of ballot votes for the AL Cy Young.

Firmly entrenched as the staff ace, Romero started the following season going 8-1 in his first 15 starts, albeit with a 4.34 ERA. He recorded his 500th career strikeout, made his 100th start and all looked well in the world.

A different kind of curveball

Then, it all started to fall apart spectacularly. The East Los Angeles, California native went just 1-13 over his remaining 17 starts, recording a 7.35 ERA and 2.043 WHIP during this period.

For the season as a whole, Romero's ERA and WHIP -- as well as walks allowed -- were all worst among qualifying pitchers. It would later transpire his performances were seriously compromised by pain in his knees.

Romero admitted this several years later, when speaking to Blake Murphy of VICE sports. He said:

"I felt like I was letting them down if I went on the shelf, too. As time has gone on and the more I think about it, it probably wasn't one of the smartest things to do. I should have probably taken a little bit more caution with it, and I didn't. It's not like the team was battling for a playoff spot or anything like that, so I should have been smarter. A little bit of stubbornness and knowing how mentally tough I was, and I am, I wanted to just fight through the season."

This was extremely admirable, especially with three members of the rotation being lost to long-term injuries in 2012. Unfortunately, this stand-up approach would also ultimately prove costly to his own career.

Romero's injury issues were only just beginning, as he dealt with pain in his left side during the offseason. This impacted his delivery and, after a poor spring training, he was sent to Buffalo to begin the 2013 season.

Hall of Famer reaches out to Romero

At the time, the late, great Roy Halladay reached out to his former Blue Jays teammate to offer some support. As per Mike Wilner of the Toronto Star, the message said:

"Man, at the end of the day, you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror. And if you know you’ve worked, if you know you’ve prepared, then you can sleep well at night."

Romero admitted that he originally dismissed Halladay's words. He only later appreciated what the message meant, but more on this shortly.

The struggles continue

Romero only appeared fleetingly in the majors during the 2013 season, with an 0-2 record in just two starts and four overall appearances. His 11.05 ERA and 2.591 WHIP highlighted his ongoing struggles - little did he realise this would be his last ever action in the big leagues.

The situation was pretty dire in Buffalo as well. The 28-year-old went 5-8 and recorded a 5.78 ERA in 22 starts.

Understandably, the whole situation was as emotionally taxing for Romero as it was physically. As per Murphy, he said:

"It was mentally draining. People saw the frustration, people started to see somebody that wanted to do so good. I could tell a lot of people were rooting for me, and at the same time there was this, 'How can I get out of this?' There were a lot of sleepless nights. I'd go home and I'd just sit there in bed and in my apartment, wherever I was, and just think about, what can I do better?"

Injuries finally become too much

Everything finally came to a head in June 2014, when Romero underwent season-ending surgery on his left knee and subsequently his right one. He had struggled to begin the year in Triple-A, and it turned out he'd been pitching with torn quadriceps tendons in both legs.

April 25, 2015 proved to be a sad day for everyone connected, as the Cal State uni alumni was released by the Blue Jays. He did go on to spend parts of three seasons pitching in the minors with the San Francisco Giants, but finally announced his retirement at the conclusion of 2018.

Returning to Halladay's message, Romero eventually had more understanding of what the Hall of Famer was trying to get across. Speaking to Wilner, he said:

"I was like: Yeah, right. Like, man, no, I gotta go out there, I gotta go out there. And looking back at it and the more I read the message, I see the message now. And (it’s that) it’s OK to reward yourself even when you fail, because if you know you’ve prepared to the best of your abilities then, hey, that’s all you can do. The rest? Once the ball leaves your hand, you have no control over that."

Giving Manoh the benefit of his experience

Now Romero is hoping that by reaching out to Manoah, the young pitcher will better appreciate - and use -- the same advice. As per Wilner, he said:

"I’ve tried to let (Manoah) know - Hey, these are the mistakes that I made. This is where I wish I would have done stuff differently, and I didn’t see (my mistakes) at the time because I was stubborn. I wanted to go out there and pitch. I wanted to get out of the hole that I was in. You start looking three steps ahead instead of one step at a time and building brick by brick. And that’s what I told him - Don’t fall into the pitfall where you feel like the world is ending, because it’s not. At the end of the day it’s baseball, it’s a game; it’s not life or death. Just trying to put a little perspective in. I feel that’s sometimes what you need."

In the long run, Romero is confident the righty will be just fine. He said:

"It stinks to get sent down, but you can see it as a blessing in disguise. Alek is still a super, super young guy, a guy who has a bright future in this league — we saw it last season — and I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to come back stronger than ever from this."

Again, while the reasons for Manoah's struggles are different, he can still benefit from Romero's experience. It could make all the difference in the 2022 All-Star returns to his previous spectacular form, because the alternative does not bear thinking about, for him, the Blue Jays, or their fans.