The optimists will tell you that it has worked before, although when Roy Halladay was sent down to the minor leagues to rebuild his delivery he was still 23 years old – not 27 like Ricky Romero – and didn't have 125 starts, an All-Star Game selection and a five-year, $30-million (U.S.) contract under his belt.
Uh, wait. Let's hold that thought, shall we?
"No … this is not even close to that," Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said quickly, after optioning Romero to Single-A Dunedin and handing the fifth starter's job to J.A. Happ. "This is nothing like that. That was a major change. That was about arm slot, arm action … this is not at all like that."
Anthopoulos went on to say that the Blue Jays would have optioned Romero based on the evidence of this spring even if he hadn't gone all-in during the off-season and added all that pedigree and all those contractual commitments. It's about doing right by an investment coming off a soul-sapping 2012, then undergoing surgery. These are "tweaks" to Romero's delivery, Anthopoulos said. "And," the GM added, "he's made good progress."
But from here, it really does seem that shipping out Romero was as much about the 2013 season as it was about the pitcher himself, doesn't it? There are two ways to view the American League East this season: first, time won't wait for anybody in a spring in which the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are finally looking their age – the Yankees beset by so much carnage that the acquisition of Vernon Wells seems a positive. Still, even with injuries and age there are no gimmes when it comes to the postseason – the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays are getting almost as much love as the Blue Jays from prognosticators, and with the god-awful Houston Astros playing in the AL West that effectively gives the second-place team in that division a free pass to the wild card.
The Blue Jays can't afford to let Romero tip-toe his way into the major-league season. Sure, they said all the right things even as Romero needed to huff and puff to his 91 miles an hour on the radar gun in his last start on Tuesday. Knowing his psyche was fragile after a miserable 2012 campaign, Anthopoulos seemed to guarantee the fifth starter's spot even as Happ put together a spring that screamed, "Take me to the majors." It was an appropriate approach: keep talking up Romero. Give him the largest possible comfort zone off the field … and keep your fingers crossed behind your back.
Meanwhile, observers such as Blue Jays radio analyst Jack Morris could see from Romero's second session of live batting practice that something didn't seem right. There was a tentativeness; a sense of frustration seemingly just below the surface. Mostly, there were 17 hits and 10 walks in 13 innings.
Read nothing into the location. Leaving Romero in Dunedin is more a product of climate. It's not a punitive measure. Indeed, there are several reasons to be excited about having a Triple-A franchise in Buffalo and a Double-A franchise in New Hampshire, but April weather is not one of them. Keeping Romero in Dunedin allows him to work in the bullpen to his heart's content, while mitigating against a possible cold-weather strain. Plus, the Toronto media won't be a two-hour drive away. Bonus!
If it makes you feel good, by all means remember that Halladay was sent down to the minors out of spring training in 2001 after a brutal 2000 campaign. Mel Queen, a former Blue Jays pitching coach, re-constructed Halladay's delivery, showing him a couple of different grips and altering his arm angle to get more movement on his fastball. But better yet … take a deep breath and be thankful it's the No.5 starter we're talking about, not the ace that's going down.