Knack to 'get the job done' has made Romano elite

September 20th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson's Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Oddly enough, it took a misstep to appreciate just how good Jordan Romano has pitched at Rogers Centre.

The Canadian closer blew his first career save at home on Sunday, allowing three runs to the Orioles in the ninth. The Blue Jays nearly came back to walk it off, and a series win to keep them atop the AL Wild Card race is no tragedy, but this was a rare dose of reality from a pitcher who’s lulled baseball into assuming he’s automatic.

That’s the ultimate compliment for a relief pitcher, and Romano has earned it. His 34 saves entering Tuesday were third in the Major Leagues, trailing only Emmanuel Clase of the Guardians (36) and Kenley Jansen of the Braves (35), and Romano seems to be getting stronger as the season wears on.

Earlier this season, some worried that Romano was teetering on the edge of regression, and some of that thought was warranted. His velocity and swing-and-miss rates took some time to heat up, but all season long, he’s shown a knack for making the biggest pitch in the biggest moment, regardless of how tight the game is, and Romano seems to be only handed one-run leads.

Two weeks ago, in Pittsburgh, Romano delivered one of his trademark moments and offered a glimpse into that mindset when asked how he handled pitching with runners in scoring position.

“I wasn’t really thinking about that. I was just thinking, ‘Best pitch in the zone,’” Romano said. “That’s all I thought. I didn’t really think about if he hit it and a run scores. I was just thinking about throwing my best pitch in the zone. Do that until you’re done, win or lose.”

With a smirk, Romano added his line of the season.

“It’s not a beauty pageant up here, you just have to get the job done.”

Sunday’s misstep aside, Romano has given the Blue Jays complete and unwavering confidence in the ninth inning, posting a 2.34 ERA over his 57 appearances this season. He’s made a handful of multi-inning appearances, too, which are absolutely a preface for what you’ll be seeing in the postseason.

You’d struggle to find a more affable, laid-back baseball player in the entire organization, but something possesses Romano when it’s time to close a game. That balance is what makes him great.

This is the ultimate luxury for a skipper. Interim manager John Schneider has benefitted from a deep bullpen with at least a half-dozen established arms he can trust on any given night, but the ninth inning will always be different. Having a locked-in closer isn’t something all 30 clubs can boast, but the Blue Jays have theirs of the present and future.

“It’s his stuff, for one. Two, it’s his mentality,” Schneider said. “It is one pitch at a time. He’s an animal out there. He can lock it in with the best of them. You just can’t say enough about him.”

Romano is doing things differently in 2022, as well. Last season, the right-hander threw his fastball on nearly two-thirds of his pitches, relegating his slider to a secondary weapon. This season, his slider has moved into the driver’s seat with 52.7 percent usage compared to his fastball at 46.9 percent. Both pitches are effective, of course, but unless you’re gifted with Mariano Rivera’s cutter, these yearly adjustments are needed to stay one step ahead of hitters.

With 34 saves, Romano is tied for eighth most in a single season in Blue Jays history with Tom Henke (twice) and Casey Janssen. Romano has 15 games left down the stretch, so it’s fully possible he climbs into the top three with 38 (Kelvin Escobar, B.J. Ryan). Duane Ward’s mark of 45 still stands as the record (1993), but Romano should have every opportunity to take another run in ’23.

“A couple of years ago, I always wanted to be the closer. It’s just so far away, right?” Romano said. “This does mean a lot. A save means that we won a game. I’m just happy that I can contribute to that many wins.”