Ricky Romero's outing against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday lasted all of 29 pitches.
Staked to a 2-0 lead by Edwin Encarnacion's first-inning homer at Tropicana Field, Romero gave up two walks, three runs and four singles in the bottom of the inning before manager John Gibbons gave him the hook. Romero recorded one out.
"We were still in the game, we'd scored two, and they were on the verge of blowing it out," Gibbons said. "I thought he was a little tentative tonight. … It was a struggle for him. It's tough on everybody, I mean you feel for the guy. He'll figure it out; he's got to figure it out."
When Mark Buehrle got into trouble during a seven-run inning on Monday, the bullpen did not stir. With Romero (0-2, 12.46 ERA) pitching deliberately, Gibbons had Edgar Gonzalez ready to go. Romero went walk, single, walk in the bottom of the inning before third baseman Brett Lawrie visit to shout encouragement. Evan Longoria promptly singled in a run, then pitching coach Pete Walker went out to chat. Run-scoring singles by James Loney and Luke Scott finally induced Gibbons from the dugout, the Jays trailing 3-2.
Called up Wednesday to replace J.A. Happ, Gonzalez doused the Rays rally in the first but would allow five runs in 4-2/3 innings, including two-run homers by Longoria and Kelly Johnson, in the 10-4 defeat.
"It's his call," Romero said, when asked about the early hook. "I'm not going to sit here and question the manager. He makes those decisions. The competitor in me obviously didn't want to come out of that game."
Gibbons indicated little confidence afterwards in Romero's ability to get out of the first-inning pickle. Romero thought the numbers looked worse than the actual performance, said he felt good mechanically and was content with the pitches he'd made, though the singles appeared to be hit crisply.
"I just thought the way the inning was going, we were still in the game there if we could shut them down, and Gonzalez came in and did a tremendous job for us," Gibbons said.
Having remained in nearby Dunedin following spring training to change his delivery, Romero returned on May 3 to allow three runs in four innings in a loss to the Seattle Mariners. Romero lost confidence in himself last season, and along with making physical changes to his windup, the club is also trying to restore his confidence.
"You consider all that stuff but I have a responsibility to 25 guys on the field," Gibbons said.
Romero was pitching the day after Happ got hit by a line drive. In his first outing - four innings in a loss to Seattle last week - Romero was also hit by a batted ball on the forearm and got a bruise. Neither Gibbons nor Romero would deem that a factor in Wednesday's performance.
"Obviously you're in front of a lot of people and everyone expects so much out of you – so do I," said Romero, speaking softly in the clubhouse. "That's what a lot of people forget sometimes. I'm a competitor, I work hard and I put so much effort into everything I've done. I don't see this as a step back."
On Thursday night, 2012 Cy Young Award winners R.A. Dickey and David Price are scheduled to face one another, before the Jays go to AL East-leading Boston for a three-game series. With Josh Johnson and Happ on the disabled list, if Romero is not ready for prime time, the Jays are confronting a desperate pitching situation. Romero said he would be prepared to work out of the bullpen, as the Jays have two days off next week. There's a possibility he could be brought back Sunday in Boston, in Happ's turn. Johnson (triceps) is expected to throw on Thursday.
Toronto came back from seven- and three-run deficits on Monday and Tuesday, and threatened again Wednesday in the fifth with the score 6-2 against starter Matt Moore (6-0). Mark DeRosa ended the inning by fanning on a high-outside fastball with a full count. DeRosa started at second base for the first time since May 1, 2010, when he played for San Francisco.
Notes: Lawrie went 0-for-5 and is now 5-for-32 in the leadoff slot. … The Jays went into the seventh behind 10-2 and Jose Bautista got thrown out at third, trying to advance on a grounder to Yunel Escobar at short. … Later in the inning, J.P. Arencibia was held up rounding third on a single, only for Encarnacion to occupy third. Arencibia came home when the throw was fumbled by catcher Jose Lobaton.