05/31/09 6:41 PM ET
Romero struggles as Blue Jays fall
In first career start against Boston, rookie pitcher falters
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
In a quiet clubhouse after the loss, the players did all they could to focus on the good. True, the Blue Jays weren't able to complete a three-game sweep of the Red Sox, but the club still walked away with a pair of victories in the series. Considering Toronto entered the weekend with a nine-game losing streak in tow, it was a welcome result.
"When you win the first two, you always want to win the third," center fielder Vernon Wells said. "It's frustrating that we didn't compete as well as we would've liked today. But obviously, when you go through a nine-game losing streak and you say, 'You're going to take two out of three against Boston,' you'll take it."
That being said, the Blue Jays' effort in the final game of the series was forgettable.
"It was a poorly played game on our part," Wells admitted.
That can be attributed in part to the stellar outing fashioned by Lester, who used strong fastball command and a sharp changeup to baffle Toronto's hitters for six innings. It was the second time in three starts that Lester notched a win against the Jays, the previous time being loss No. 3 during the Blue Jays' nine-game drought.
Wells was the lone hitter among Toronto's starting nine not to have at least one strikeout against Lester. Adam Lind, Kevin Millar and Jose Bautista, on the other hand, each fanned at least twice against the young Red Sox lefty. Overall, Lester struck out 12, the most by a Boston southpaw since Bruce Hurst had 14 on May 5, 1987.
In his two starts against the Blue Jays (29-24) this season, Lester has posted a tidy 1.46 ERA with 16 strikeouts over 12 1/3 innings, this against one of baseball's top offensive groups. During one stretch between the fourth and sixth innings on Sunday, Lester recorded eight of nine outs with strikeouts, helping to lower his season ERA to 5.65.
"You kind of wonder how a guy comes into the game with a 6.00 ERA with the kind of stuff that he has," Wells said. "When he's on, it's difficult. Obviously, when you see the kind of numbers that he put up against us, especially with the strikeouts, it's impressive."
Lester (4-5), who struck out six of Toronto's hitters looking, didn't have one specific reason for his success against the Jays this year.
"I don't know," Lester said. "The past two starts, I've been able to mix in and out pretty well against them and try to keep them off-balance as best I can. I was able to do that fairly well today. But nothing in particular that stands out. They're a tough lineup."
It was a completely different story for Romero (2-2).
In his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas, following a stint on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right oblique, Romero was charged with five runs on six hits over four-plus innings. Four of the runs allowed by Romero came courtesy of Boston home runs, giving the lefty five homers allowed in his last two outings.
It has been a drastic contrast to Romero's first three starts of the season, during which he went 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA, 13 strikeouts and four walks over 21 innings. Over his past two trips to the mound, Romero has two losses and a 9.64 ERA, compiling eight strikeouts and six walks over only 9 1/3 innings.
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said Romero has struggled with his changeup and curve.
"His location is just not good right now," Gaston said. "His changeup is up most of the time. When he gets it down, he's got a good changeup. Today, he got it up a few times, and he got it hit. He was behind in the count a lot. You can't pitch up here behind in the count.
"It's just location, just throwing the ball where he wants to throw it, and getting his changeup down and his curveball over. That's the difference I see."
Romero cited his two-seam fastball as the primary issue.
"I just didn't have a feel for my two-seamer," Romero said. "That's been the problem in the past two games. I just haven't been able to get a feel for that. I'm disappointed and frustrated. We had a chance to come in and sweep these guys.
"Physically, everything is fine. I just have to go back to that confidence that I had in all my pitches."
Kevin Youkilis launched a solo home run off Romero in the first inning, and Dustin Pedroia added a three-run shot in the fourth that struck the left-field foul pole about a foot above the wall to put the Jays behind, 4-1. In the eighth, the Sox (29-22) received consecutive solo homers from Youkilis and Jason Bay during a three-run outburst against reliever Brian Wolfe.
An 8-1 cushion after eight frames was more than ample to net the win for Lester, whose only run allowed came on an RBI sacrifice fly off the bat of Wells in the first inning. Toronto right fielder Alex Rios added a solo home run in the home half of the eighth, but the damage had already been done.
Lester simply proved too strong on this afternoon.
"He had good stuff today," Gaston said. "He pitched a good ballgame. He could probably beat just about anybody with the stuff he had today. He's that type of pitcher. He can dominate at times. Today was his day."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.