The Phillies need a quality bullpen from day one to the end, and for that to happen, J.C. Romero needs to be the pitcher he was during August and September, not the one who was released eight months ago.
The 31-year-old left-hander was designated for assignment by Boston in June, signed a minor league deal with the Phils, and miraculously turned a 180 in time to receive a three-year, $12 million extension from the club.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Romero says. “There are some things in life you can’t explain.”
Romero dominated September and says he is closing in on his personal best streak of consecutive scoreless regular season innings. He says his surprising turnaround had more to do with tweaking the mental side of his game than fixing mechanics.
“To be honest, my problem was my temper,” he admits. “Early in my career, I was too explosive and let my temper get the best of me. Now, I’m more mature. I’m under control. I’m trying to use all my emotions in a positive way instead of against me. Last year, I wasn’t an overpowering pitcher; I was just trying to get them out. In previous years, I wanted to strike out everybody. I’m smarter, more mature, and now I’m pitching. I’m not throwing.”
Armed with a healthier approach, Romero will be asked to capitalize on another aspect of his game: his rubber arm.
“Some people are blessed with height, some people are bless with stuff. I’m blessed with the way I recuperate,” he says. “I know I have to prepare myself mentally and physically for the wear and tear of the season. That’s why you take the off-season very seriously.”
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel expects to use Romero in the later innings, possibly in a setup role depending on the opposing match-ups. Along with new closer Brad Lidge, veteran set-up man Tom Gordon and right-hander Ryan Madson, Romero expects good things from the revamped bullpen.
“We have great arms,” Romero says. “The only key factor here is health."
(This is the sixth in a series of small reports from Thursday’s Winter Tour in Reading.)