BALTIMORE -- Amid it all -- leaving his hometown Blue Jays for the White Sox in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft, subsequently being traded to the Rangers, not making the big league roster out of Spring Training, being returned to Toronto’s Triple-A Buffalo staff and the stress that comes with it all -- Jordan Romano did not forget how to smile.
The ear-to-ear grin was on full display as the right-handed reliever stood in front of his locker at Camden Yards on Wednesday, less than 12 hours after getting the call-up to the Blue Jays -- the first of the 26-year-old’s career after a year of fluctuation. And the smile grew even more when he walked off the mound with a pair of strikeouts in a 1-2-3 13-pitch seventh inning in his debut -- an 8-6 win over the Orioles.
“It was everything I thought it would be, coming out of those bullpen gates just looking at the crowd, the lights,” Romano said after the game. “It was awesome.”
Romano joined the 25-man roster to replace closer Ken Giles, who was placed on the 10-day injured list with right elbow inflammation, retroactive to June 9. And it comes as Romano has found comfort as Buffalo’s closer across May and June.
“It felt like I was so close and then so far away,” Romano said before Wednesday's game, of being returned to Toronto from Texas. “The past couple weeks I put together a few good outings, and now we’re here. So it was high, low and then high again. It’s been kind of a roller coaster, but I’m just glad I’m here.”
A former starter, Romano began his first serious training in the bullpen with the Rangers this past spring. He made a couple starts with the Bisons at the beginning of 2019, but ensuing conversations with the coaching staff made the bullpen transition a permanent one -- a decision he is at peace with.
“I was OK with it because I agree with them,” Romano said. “I could have been a starter, but it would have taken a little more time. But right here right now, I can help the team as a reliever.”
The Blue Jays’ No. 28 prospect when selected in the 2014 Draft, Romano has had an up-and-down go of it in his career thus far -- 4.13 ERA with Double-A New Hampshire in 25 starts last season and an overall 6.10 ERA with Buffalo so far this year on top of the movement this past spring.
But that second number does not paint the whole picture, as Romano accredits a permanent transition to the bullpen and a tweaked delivery as reasons for his recent success: one earned run on six hits with three walks and 18 strikeouts over his past nine appearances (12 1/3 innings).
“I know how my stuff plays up in the bullpen, and I thought that was the best spot for me to be in to help this club at this level win,” Romano said. “We all talked about it, and they agreed as well, so we said that I would go to the bullpen and have the best chance to succeed up here.”
“The whole Triple-A staff said he deserves to come up,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He was pitching really good. He was closing for them down there, and he was pitching the best.”
As the 12th Canadian-born player to appear on a Major League roster this season, he is the only one who has a chance to play in front of a hometown crowd for the hometown team.
His parents, Joe and Cynthia, will be in attendance for Wednesday’s contest, but staying on the roster at least as long as when the Blue Jays return home June 17 will give hordes more the chance to see him.
“Hopefully I get a chance to stay up here and pitch there,” Romano said of pitching at Rogers Centre, less than 30 minutes from his childhood home. “I’d have a lot of my friends and family watch. That’d be pretty special.”
It might be the only chance that smile can grow any wider.
Giles unfazed by IL stint
Despite being placed on the injured list for the first time in his six-year career, Giles is not worried about the right-elbow inflammation that landed him there.
The righty says the setback is more a byproduct of a slower-than-expected recovery period from pitching in back-to-back games against the Yankees on June 4-5 rather than a worrisome injury. He and Montoyo are confident that the steady bullpen hand and valuable trade chip will return to action once he is eligible on June 19.
“It’s something so minor I’m not really concerned about it,” Giles said. “I anticipate just 10 days and get back on the mound and get back to helping the team.”
The Blue Jays also transferred righty Clay Buchholz (right shoulder inflammation) to the 60-day IL. Buchholz will be eligible to be reinstated on July 8.