By Mike Harrington
In more than two decades of covering the Bisons, the only pitcher I've seen struggle like Ricky Romero was Tim Wakefield. In between his meteoric rise with the Pirates and his rebirth for a long career with the Red Sox, Wakefield was 5-15 for Buffalo in 1994 and his knuckleball was all over the place.
Eventually, Wakefield figured things out, but the Pirates cut bait before it cost them any more money. As it turned out, they were premature in their decision. The Toronto Blue Jays don't have the same luxury with Ricky Romero, whom they are paying $7.5 million to this year and another $7.5 million next year.
Romero set a Buffalo franchise record with nine walks in the first game of last night's doubleheader against Gwinnett, an eventual 4-1 loss. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings and has walked an International League-high 32 in 29 2/3 innings this year. Romero said his arm is fine and that his pregame bullpen session last night was his best of the season. He had procedures done on his knees in October and said there are good days and bad days. Perhaps they're impacting his delivery.
"I've worked hard. There's no denying that," Romero told me today in the Bisons' dugout after batting practice. "It's frustrating and it's definitely not fun. You go home sit there and kind of say, "What the hell happened?" But you wake up today and it's a new day.
"I'd rather come out after 2 2/3 knowing I gave up nine hits and made them earn it than come out of the game and reflect what happened," Romero said. "I was like, 'Wow, they didn't even earn those two runs. I gave them to them.' When I'm in the zone and my stuff is moving, I know my stuff plays and it gives hitters trouble."
Romero was at the park early today and will throw some Sunday morning. He may get pushed back a few days, largely so he can attend his brother's college graduation at Long Beach State. Manager Gary Allenson said at this point he expects to keep Romero starting to see if he can figure some things out.
"I look forward to the next day, forward to coming out here and working," Romero said. "My work ethic has never changed, whether I've been successful or not. The struggles are pretty hard. It's sleepless nights for sure. At the same time, you still have a job to do. Knowing I'm preparing and getting better in some areas away from the game like the weight room and better preparing my body is a big priority too."
The Bisons will be starting the anti-Romero today in right-hander Liam Hendriks, who is 5-0 with a 1.51 ERA -- and has walked just two men in 41 2/3 innings. Lehigh Valley will be spot-starting former Bisons hurler Brad Lincoln. As part of Armed Forces Tribute Day, the Bisons will be wearing camouflage caps.
Here's the Buffalo lineup:
Darin Mastroianni, cf
Ryan Goins, 2b
Jared Goedert, 3b
Dan Johnson, 1b
Brad Glenn, rf
Matt Tuiasosopo, lf
Andy LaRoche, dh
Mike Nickeas, c
Jonathan Diaz, ss
Liam Hendriks, p