Since his debut, in 2009, Blue Jays left-handed starter Ricky Romero has encountered more than 3,300 batters at the major-league level. The overwhelming majority of those (71 percent) been right-handed, typical for a left-handed starter. Teams load up their lineups with righties against southpaws; the idea being to play to their hitters’ platoon strengths.
Upon his arrival, the Rays treated Romero like a traditional lefty, too. Romero started against Tampa Bay twice his rookie season. He faced just three left-handed batters total; Carl Crawford was the only lefty to start both games. Armed with magnificent changeup, Romero cut through the right-handed heavy lineups allowing just four runs in 14 innings of work.
As Romero’s body of work increased, it was revealed that he was a reverse-split pitcher; seeing more success by going against the platoon split than pitching with it. While most of the league has been slow to adjust to Romero, the Rays seemingly identifed it early and marked him for Danks Theory treatment.
In 2010, the Rays increased the usage of lefties against Romero from 24 percent to 33 percent. In 2011, the usage rate climbed to 39 percent. In two starts this season, the split was just 51-49 in favor of right-handers. Prior to his first start against the team this year, Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon said he would start nine left-handed batters against the Toronto left-hander if he could. With expanded rosters, Maddon had the opportunity to go full lefty against Romero on Sunday. Instead, he reversed course against the reverse split.
Despite having nine left-handed batters available, Maddon started just one–Carlos Pena. In lieu of the unorthodox assault, he started eight right-handed batters including lefty masher Jeff Keppinger and newcomer Ben Francisco. In fact, Romero did not have an official at-bat against a left-hander as he walked Pena in their only encounter.
Perhaps the genesis of Sunday’s lineup was Maddon simply playing mind games with Romero, who took offense to Maddon’s lefty-heavy lineups. Or perhaps, it is the fact that Romero is just not a good pitcher right now. Whatever the reason, it worked well.
Romero still has a potent changeup; however, the Rays righties took an aggressive approach against his fastball, eliminating deep counts where his changeup thrives. Four of the Rays eight hits came in counts with two calls or less (0-0, 0-1, 1-1, 1-0, 2-0, or 0-2). Three of those hits came off the fastball. In total, the Rays tallied six hits off the heater, three for extra-bases. The blitzkrieg attack resulted in seven runs on eight hits–including a home run from Francisco. The one-inning-long start was the shortest of Romero’s career versus the Rays.
For nearly three years, Romero has thrived by mixing speeds and keeping the opposition off balance. On Sunday, he was a victim of the Rays’ change-up in philosophy.