Despite fewer save chances, Romano trying to stay sharp

May 25th, 2024

DETROIT -- What’s a closer to do when there aren’t games to close?

had gone five days without pitching and had faced just one batter over the last nine days. Manager John Schneider decided prior to Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park that he was pitching in some way, shape or form.

Romano did his job when called upon by pitching a scoreless eighth inning, however, the Blue Jays faltered offensively and couldn’t support starter José Berríos, who was sharp over seven innings aside from the two-run homer he allowed to Kerry Carpenter.

“For a guy that’s not accustomed to coming into games like that, I thought he attacked the zone,” Schneider said of Romano. “His slider was really good … I thought he threw the ball really [well].”

Schneider wants to use Romano with the accustomed adrenaline generated by entering a save situation, but needed to bring him into a game just to keep him sharp.

“It’s a close ballgame and I really wanted to just keep the score at what it was, right?” said Romano. “It’s a one-run game and you know with our guys coming up to bat in the ninth, that is well within reach. So I just got into those good counts and see what happens. It was five days off, and I don’t like to go more than that.”

Romano had 36 saves and made the All-Star team in both 2022 and ‘23, but has only seven saves in '24 with roughly a third of the season complete. He’s appeared in only 13 games largely due to an elbow issue that caused him to start the year on the IL.

Romano is 7-for-8 on save opportunities with a 4.50 ERA; he’s pitched 12 innings and struck out 12 while allowing three walks and 13 hits.

“His numbers look a little pedestrian,” said Schneider, “but I think he’s throwing the ball extremely well. And he’s a guy you want out there in the highest-leverage spot.”

Romano threw first-pitch strikes to all four Tigers he faced, allowing a one-out single to Jake Rogers while striking out Zach McKinstry and Riley Greene and getting Wenceel Pérez to ground out.

Those first-pitch strikes tie into what Romano said has been his focus in 2024.

“That’s just what I’m trying to do when I get out there,” Romano said. “It’s ‘attack the zone and get in good counts.’ And today worked out, so the plan was executed.”

Romano got a first-pitch strike 69 percent of the time in 2022, while dropping to 58.5 percent in 2023 and seeing his ERA rise from 2.11 to 2.90. He wanted to improve that rate and entered Sunday at 63.3 percent.

“I want to throw more strikes there and get ahead of batters,” said Romano. “I feel like I’ve been doing that for the most part. I’m throwing strikes and attacking. Usually, when you do that, good things happen.

“When you get strike one, you’re more in the driver’s seat.”

Schneider added: “Strike one is something we and the other 29 teams preach, and so far I think he’s been pretty damn good at it.”

Not being able to use his bullpen horse has been different for the manager.

“But I think [Jordan], we haven’t been pitching him a lot lately for some good and bad reasons,” said Schneider. “But when he’s out there, you feel real confident he’s going to get it done.”

And he did again against Detroit.

“He came in in the eighth because he had five days out from the mound,” said Berríos. “So, he needed to work, and he came and did what he knows how to do. So, he’s healthy and strong and it’s good to have him on the mound.”