'More attention to detail' key for Romano, Blue Jays

March 18th, 2023

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The you see pacing the bullpen and pounding his chest atop the mound is not the same Jordan Romano who sits, one leg crossed casually over the other, with an easy smile at his locker in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse.

The two may have met, but at some point during what Romano calls a “pretty long, extensive routine” during each game, they go their separate ways. As a pitcher, he exudes the straightforward aggression of a great closer. Off the mound, though, Romano is the picture of calm, one of the club’s more thoughtful players.

From the early hours of Spring Training in February, we’ve heard Blue Jays coaches and staff call this team more mature, more focused. They’re difficult ideas to describe within all the complexities of an MLB roster, but Romano’s had one of the best seats in the house for the rise -- and roadblocks -- of the Blue Jays these past five years.

“We had a really unique opportunity with [manager John] Schneider coming in for his first full year,” Romano said. “You can’t create a culture -- that comes over time -- but you can form a team identity, and I think Schneids has been leading the charge. Before, we were the young, loose, talented team. We’d made a couple of mistakes, myself included, when it came to holding runners and stuff like that. This year, there’s just more attention to detail."

That’s where this organization’s attention lies.

This isn’t about the towering home runs, 20-hit games or dominant pitching performances. Toronto’s roster is stacked with talent and plenty capable of that. It’s about the fine details, which may not always be the sexiest or most exciting part of baseball, but they matter when it matters.

“Yes, we’re still going to play loose, and we’re super talented, but we’re also buttoning up the things that we needed to button up,” Romano said. “Things like hitting the cutoff man, or for me, holding runners better and not letting them take that extra 90 feet. It’s the little things, because we have all the talent in the world. It’s the little things that are separating us from being a Wild Card team to maybe now division winners.”

When the Blue Jays do get over that hump, making a legitimate postseason run instead of sizzling on the edges, it will be Romano they count on in the biggest moments.

Romano’s success these past three seasons since establishing himself in 2020 has been impressive. The former starter, who was once plucked away from Toronto in the Rule 5 Draft only to be returned, has pitched to a 2.03 ERA over that span, saving 23 and 36 games the last two seasons. Finding success is one thing, but Romano’s ability to adjust and sustain that success is what sets him apart. It’s about staying one adjustment ahead at all times.

“A huge part of it is going to be pitch mix, whether it’s a lefty or a righty, and how you attack and put them away,” said Schneider. “He also slid over on the rubber a little bit to the third-base side, which I think makes those two pitches look different than they have in the past. It’s about staying out of tendencies."

As a younger reliever, Romano used his slider to steal the odd strike over the heart of the plate, but that’s about it. Now, he can spot the pitch to either side of the plate, picking and choosing his locations just like he would with a fastball.

In 2018, ’19 or ’20, when Romano was trying to make an impression, Spring Training was about results. Now that he’s one of baseball’s best closers, those numbers matter less, allowing him to get more specific with his work, even if it’s a difficult balance.

“That’s the most unique thing about it,” Romano said. “The first couple years, you just want to make the team and you want to go full tilt every time and strike everyone out. Right now, I’m still competing, and I still want to get outs -- we’re competitors, right? -- but if my slider has been sloppy, it’s more about working on it instead of trying to get outs no matter what.”

Soon, that changes. Each night, game-time Romano will take over as he paces the bullpen, awaiting a game to close. If this Blue Jays team can button up a few more of those issues they’re focusing on, there should be plenty of opportunities to do just that.