LAKELAND, Fla. -- It's only Spring Training, but no matter how you look at it, Tuesday was going to be a big day for Ricky Romero. The Blue Jays' No. 1 starter was given a chance to start against the Tigers, and it would be a test -- a checkup, in a sense -- to get a better sense of how far he's come.
Romero admitted after the game -- an 18-4 loss -- that he was excited about the opportunity. But the results were not encouraging, as he gave up three runs on three hits and five walks, four of which came consecutively and led to his exit after 2 2/3 innings. He uncorked two wild pitches, hit a batter and threw only 23 of his 57 pitches for strikes.
Three of the outs he recorded came on the basepaths as he searched for any way to get through his rough outing. Manager John Gibbons had hoped to see his 29-year-old lefty, whose progress this spring has encouraged Toronto after a couple of down years, get through four or five innings.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," Romero said. "I wanted to get to my pitch count and get up there in innings and whatnot. But what can I do now? Just go back to work tomorrow and clean up what I did wrong today. I've had [too many] positives this spring to let one outing set me back."
That much is true. Romero was heading in the right direction, putting together three strong performances out of the bullpen this spring. He had allowed only one run on three hits and six strikeouts in seven innings, but Tuesday was going to be different, as he faced several of the Tigers' everyday hitters. And if there was a cause for concern, it was the five walks he issued.
Most of Romero's issues over the past few years have stemmed from his inability to control the strike zone the way he did when he posted a 2.92 ERA over 225 innings amid an American League All-Star campaign in 2011. He walked 105 batters over 181 innings in 2012, and although he was called up for two stints in the Majors in 2013, he struggled throughout the season.
"It looks like he has good stuff. When he's around in the zone, he looks like he can be a pitcher that gets outs at the Major League level very consistently. I know he has in the past," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Sometimes you lose the feel, and it's hard to get back."
Still, Romero had begun to look a little more like his old self, jumping out to a 1.29 ERA in the Grapefruit League. That's why he refuses to let Tuesday's performance discourage him, even if it didn't turn out the way he had hoped.
"I think I just cut a lot of balls off today. I think where I've been really, really, really good the past three outings was finishing the delivery and finishing out front," he said. "We've taken too many steps forward to dwell on this, to sit here and dissect this outing. All I can do is just move forward and just learn from this one and go back to work.
"It's a bad outing. I've had three good outings. It happens as a pitcher. You just have to learn how to come back from it. I'll wait for my chance again and see what happens."
Gibbons wouldn't say whether Romero will get another chance to start this spring. He hasn't been mentioned among those competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, but there had been some hope that his strong spring would hasten his return to the Majors. How Tuesday's outing affects that possibility remains to be seen.
"Not enough strikes. ... I didn't see him turning it loose as much. He was trying to guide it a little bit when he wasn't hitting the zone," Gibbons said. "But his last couple of outings have been really good, so I'm encouraged. I've seen it. We can still build off of that."
The first inning actually went relatively smoothly. Romero gave up a ground-ball single to leadoff man Ben Guez and retired Torii Hunter on a double play, then got Ian Kinsler to ground out to second base. Victor Martinez flied out to right field to lead off the second. Then came the trouble.
Romero hit Alex Avila in the back with a curveball, and Austin Jackson subsequently lifted a homer to right field. Romero issued his first walk to Don Kelly, who was picked off trying to steal second, then Danny Worth tapped out to Romero.
Romero couldn't build off that escape, however, as Hernan Perez led off the third with a triple to left-center. Romero went on to walk four straight batters, recording a few more outs on the basepaths before he was finally pulled from the game.
Romero said he "didn't have a feel for anything" on Tuesday. He had trouble locating his breaking ball and changeup, which hadn't been an issue earlier this spring. He didn't feel like he panicked on the mound. It was a bad outing, and that's all he's going to make of it.