DUNEDIN, Fla. — Ricky Romero wants to be Toronto’s opening day starter.
But if he’s going to get that honour, Romero is going to have to convince Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston that he’s ready.
“It would definitely be an awesome, awesome experience,” Romero said Friday after the Blue Jays worked out. “Not very many guys get to do that and it happens only once a year, so it’d be exciting. Really, really exciting.”
As a 24-year-old rookie left-hander last year, Romero earned the No. 4 spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. After April 19, his third start and second win, he pulled an oblique muscle and was sidelined until May 26.
“Ricky looks fine,” Gaston said. “If he doesn’t get hurt last year who knows what he might have done.”
Romero finished the season 13-9 with a 4.30 earned-run average over 178 innings, second on the team to ace Roy Halladay, and 141 strikeouts. Now with Halladay traded to Philadelphia, the opening day starter is wide open.
Among the other candidates: Brandon Morrow, acquired from Seattle and expected to get a starting job if he makes the team; Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan, each of whom missed all of last season with injuries, and Brian Tallet, who started 25 games for the Blue Jays in 2009. Each has at least three years’ big league experience.
“One thing you have to keep in mind,” Gaston said, “is that the No. 1 guy, he’s always facing the best pitchers in baseball. Not to say that Ricky can’t do that, but he’s still young. I don’t know who it’s going to be. It depends on who’s healthy.”
Gaston said he’d rather have an opening day starter who’s “been around a little bit longer, someone that’s got a little but more experience. But Ricky, I wouldn’t put it past him.”
Romero said the biggest thing lacking last spring was confidence.
“This year I came in mentally stronger, thinking, ’You can do it. You can pitch at this level. You belong here.”’
After facing batters for the first time on Friday, he said what he has to work on are calming down and slowing down.
“You get a little more adrenaline when you see a hitter in the box,” Romero said. “I think that’s more of what it was, kind of getting used to it again. I could tell from the first couple of pitches that I was a little excited.
“Once I settled down, everything was just kind of fluid and it was kind of muscle memory from there on. It’s coming back little by little and, hopefully I’ll peak at the right time.”
NOTE: Gaston returned to Blue Jays training camp Friday, the day after his wife, Lynda underwent an appendectomy.