Romero's solid outing not enough for Jays
Bullpen allows two runs in eighth inning in loss to Mariners
TORONTO -- Thinking back to the first time he watched Ricky Romero pitch during a scouting trip to California four years ago, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi remembers being blown away. The strong build. The dancing changeup. There was nothing Ricciardi did not like about the young starter.
"The first day I saw Ricky, the first thing that jumped in my head was Johan Santana," said Ricciardi. "That's the first thing that jumped in my head."
The Blue Jays can only dream that Romero can develop into a pitcher similar to the ace of the New York Mets' staff. For now, Toronto is thrilled with what has been a promising first season for its American League Rookie of the Year candidate.
On Friday night, Romero continued his inaugural tour of the big leagues with a solid outing against the Mariners, but his effort was not enough to avoid a 5-4 loss at Rogers Centre. Romero was matched up against the hard-throwing Felix Hernandez, who overpowered Toronto's lineup for much of the evening.
The Blue Jays (69-84) did manage four runs against Hernandez -- not bad considering he is sporting a 2.49 ERA this season -- but that showing fell short. A handful of mistakes by Romero and Toronto's bullpen proved too costly and Hernandez improved to 17-5 on the season.
"When [Hernandez] is on like he was tonight, it's fun to watch," said Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells, who collected a season-high four RBIs in the loss. "It's not fun to be in the box facing it, but it's amazing the kind of stuff he has at such a young age."
Romero, who walked away with a no-decision after turning in 6 1/3 innings for the Jays, said he enjoyed being paired against someone of Hernandez's caliber. The young Blue Jays left-hander has looked for every opportunity to learn this season and that includes watching how the top arms in baseball work.
One slot ahead of him in the rotation is Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay -- someone Romero has sought advice from throughout the year. Romero wants to eventually rise to the level that pitchers such as Halladay, Hernandez and Santana have reached. Right now, Romero is just enjoying the fact that he's shown he can hold his own in the Majors.
"I've been blessed to be here," Romero said. "Not a lot of people believed what I can do and I think I've done a decent job and the job isn't over. I've got to continue to get better. You look at the guys that are good -- like Felix, Roy and all the other great pitchers -- they continue to get better every year and that's what I want do do."
Ricciardi said the biggest thing Romero can learn from someone like Halladay is how he has turned himself into one of the game's true aces. Beyond pure ability, it is about the work that a player puts in away from the field and how he goes about competing on the mound. Early on, Ricciardi has liked what he has seen from Romero -- the sixth overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
"What makes Doc a No. 1?" Ricciardi said. "It's really his makeup, his preparation -- it's all the things that go into being a No. 1. Does Doc have the best stuff in the league? No. Is he always on? No, but he just finds a way to compete. That's the thing the kids have to learn.
"In Ricky's case, he competes like a son of a gun. He's got a lot of guts and his makeup is great."
Against the Mariners (80-73), Romero surrendered three runs on nine hits, maintaining a 4.28 ERA and preserving his 12-9 record. The lefty allowed a run-scoring sacrifice fly to Seattle's Matt Tuliasosopo in the second inning and then yielded a two-run homer to Franklin Gutierrez in the third that put the Jays behind, 3-0.
After Hernandez dominated the Jays for the first five frames, Toronto answered with a three-run outburst in the sixth. Aaron Hill reached on a fielding error by Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre, Adam Lind followed with a single and Wells capped off the rally by drilling a pitch from Hernandez deep to left for a game-tying, three-run homer.
"The only chance I had was to hopefully hit something offspeed that he left up," Wells said. "He left me one up in my third at-bat and I was able to put a good swing on it, but his stuff was unbelievable tonight. He left a lot of guys shaking their heads, just trying to figure out what to do to put a ball in play."
In the eighth inning, Blue Jays reliever Jesse Carlson (1-6) allowed a two-run triple to Josh Wilson, providing the decisive blow. Hernandez, who finished with 11 strikeouts in eight innings, gave up an RBI single to Wells that cut Seattle's lead to 5-4 in the eighth, but that was the extent of the Blue Jays' scoring.
It was not the conclusion Romero would have hoped for in his final outing in front of the home crowd in Toronto, but he knows he will have plenty of chances to show what he can do in coming seasons.
"It's been a fun ride here in Toronto," Romero said. "Everyone's been good to me. There were a lot of doubters out there and to this point I think I've done a decent job. Obviously, I want to come back next year and do a better job -- come back better and stronger. You take these outings and you learn from them."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.