Romano talking himself into dominant season

June 22nd, 2022

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. Subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

There are two Jordan Romanos.

One, you see pacing the Blue Jays’ bullpen at all hours, looking like a threat to punch through the chain-link fence if he’s not brought in to pitch.

The other is who we speak with after the game, after he’s shut down the Yankees for a five-out save to seal an incredible comeback. That Romano is your goofy, everyman friend, comfortable in his own skin and oddly relaxed for a man who just ran in to his own light show in front of 44,395 screaming fans.

Following that 10-9 win over the Yankees on Sunday in Toronto, Romano offered a look behind the curtain. Between the eighth and ninth during his first multi-inning save, Romano says he only sat for about 45 seconds.

“I went back into the clubhouse, talked to myself in the mirror a little bit and came back out,” Romano said.

Talked to himself? Yes, really.

“I’ve got a saying: 'Your mind’s got to be where your feet are,'” Romano said. “It’s just about staying here, staying in the moment. I just kept repeating that.”

This is what allows Romano to do what he does. Perhaps it’s wrong to say that there are two versions of Romano. He’s both people at the same time, and the balance of that is what allows him to rise to such intense moments while still keeping a level head.

He’s not afraid to let a little noise in, either, especially if he can channel it properly. One of the hitters Romano faced on Sunday was Aaron Judge, one of baseball’s hottest players.

“He pumped me when we were in New York,” Romano said. “I definitely do think about it, right? I was like, ‘I don’t want him to get me twice.’ So I really locked it in. That was a fun at-bat. I really like facing guys like that. There was some extra emotion.”

Romano’s rise has been remarkable. The former Minor League starter was selected in the Rule 5 Draft by the White Sox in December 2018, later purchased by the Rangers and eventually returned to the Blue Jays just prior to the start of the 2019 season. His ’19 debut was about flashes, not sustained success, but since ’20, he’s developed into one of the game’s most consistent back-end arms.

There are few bigger Romano fans than Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, who has called Romano “one of the best closers in baseball” on a daily basis for a year now.

Five-out saves won’t become the norm by any means, but it will be interesting to track how Romano’s usage changes heading into a stretch run that will see the Blue Jays chasing postseason seeding. He’s thrown 25 innings so far this season, easing off the gas a bit after a very busy beginning to the year.

Regardless of how often you see Romano, though, Montoyo has complete confidence in his closer. He’s even slipped up and used the word “closer” once or twice this season, which he playfully avoided doing in past seasons.

“He’s the man,” Montoyo said. “He stays just like this in those moments. That’s the only way you can do that job. He doesn’t panic. He might get somebody on base, but he’s still the same. It’s not easy to do.”

The back end of Toronto’s bullpen has been strong, with David Phelps and Tim Mayza both quietly having strong seasons to date. The issue, to this point, has been with the earlier innings.

Too often of late, particularly when Yusei Kikuchi is pitching, the Blue Jays are forced to cover a chunk of innings. With Ross Stripling now permanently in the rotation, the search for a steady long-man continues, and with Trevor Richards on the 15-day IL, there’s an opening for someone -- anyone -- to step up.

“It’s all about the starters and if they go deep or not,” Montoyo said. “If they don’t go deep, it’s tough to cover five innings of baseball against good teams. It’s all about the starters. If the starters go deep, it’s easy to cover a game. If they don’t, it’s tougher.”