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Romero's road to redemption smooth so far

New attitude helping former Blue Jays ace find success this spring

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- There's still an awful lot of work that needs to be done but left-hander Ricky Romero finally appears to be heading in the right direction.

Toronto's left-hander is coming off a pair of solid outings, and for the first time in recent memory there are some positive vibes to build from. It has been a long time coming, but the fire has returned and all of a sudden everyone in camp seems to want to bring up his name.

There's still no guarantee that Romero will have a job at the end of Spring Training, but the fact that he has re-entered the discussion for a spot in the starting rotation shows just how far he has come over the past several weeks.

"I definitely feel like it's going in the right direction, and how can you not," Romero said. "Everything I've been through, this feels good. I'm not going to get ahead of myself, or anything like that, but it's taking it day by day and working.

"I think if I do that, just continue to work, work, and see the little wins each and every day and remain positive, I think I'm going to be just fine. The rest will take care of itself."

The Blue Jays entered the spring with a slew of candidates for the final spot in the starting rotation. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons spent the opening days of camp running through a laundry list of names that included the likes of Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin and occasionally even Dustin McGowan.

The one name that never got mentioned was Romero. It seemed like the only time anyone in the organization talked about him was in response to a direct question from a reporter. The company line was that Romero was indeed competing for a spot, but the fact that he was rarely -- if ever -- included in the large group of candidates spoke volumes.

That stance has changed during the past week. Romero pitched two scoreless innings vs. the Rays on Friday in his second outing of the spring and followed up that performance with just one earned run over four innings against Tampa Bay on Wednesday afternoon. He has an impressive 1.29 ERA over seven innings and seems to be showing flashes of his former self on the mound.

There are still some concerns, as Romero has issued five walks over the course of those three outings. He's also been coming out of the bullpen and hasn't always faced the opposing teams' best hitters. That is expected to change in the final two weeks of camp, and he might even get an opportunity to start Tuesday vs. Detroit. So a true test is yet to come.

Regardless of what happens in the relatively near future, Romero isn't about to get carried away. He spent far too much time obsessing over those details in the past and worrying about his future. For now, he plans on staying in the moment and not concerning himself with what the club's front office might be thinking behind the scenes.

"I've learned to stay in the present and not look ahead or not look behind and start thinking, overthinking," Romero said. "I think for me it's a positive every time I come out and get my work done. It feels good. Whether it's in the game, in the bullpen, towel drills.

"I feel good about myself. That has been the biggest key, staying in the present right now and not looking ahead. Everything else will take care of itself. All I can do is go out there and pitch and audition."

By now, the trials and tribulations of Romero have been well documented. He's a former ace who made the American League All-Star team in 2011 and has three seasons under his belt in which he won at least 13 games and posted an ERA below 4.30.

The problems began in 2012 when Romero lost control of the strike zone and ended up walking 105 batters over 181 innings. The prolonged struggles seemed to cause a lot of anxiety on the mound, and it carried over into the following spring. Romero struggled out of the gate and ultimately was sent all the way down to Class A Dunedin at the end of camp.

That seemed to only make things worse, and even though Romero ended up making it back for two stints in the Major Leagues, he never seemed like himself. One of the problems was Romero tried to be too fine on the mound and appeared to guide the ball instead of just reaching back and letting go.

There has been a different approach this spring. Romero is trying to get back to the guy he was before, and part of that process has involved returning to the basics. Instead of trying to hit the corners, Romero has been asking his catchers to set up in the middle of the plate and letting the natural movement of his pitches take over.

The down-the-middle approach was something he used to do under the guidance of former catchers John Buck, Jose Molina and, for awhile, J.P. Arencibia.

"They were the ones who said, 'Let's set up down the middle because your stuff is so lively,'" Romero said of Buck and Molina. "It moves so much, if you try and throw a sinker down and away they're not going to swing at it. There's a certain time to expand, and I'll do that, but for right now it's about seeing that glove and hitting it.

"I think a lot of the stuff that I've done is just get back to my roots, to what got me here, to this point. My confidence is growing."

Regardless of whether Romero makes the team at the end of camp, that can only be good news for the Blue Jays -- and especially their former No. 1 starter.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.

Toronto Blue Jays, Ricky Romero