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Romero Tries to Mop Up `Nightmare' Year

September 15, 2006|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas — In another time or place, reliever J.C. Romero might have thrown a tantrum by now, ripped his manager in the papers, asked for a trade. But it's hard to criticize how you're being used when you don't have a leg -- or a decent earned-run average -- on which to stand.

"This year has been a nightmare," said Romero, one of the Angels' biggest disappointments this season, with a 6.96 ERA in 60 appearances. "And in this game, if you don't perform, you're not going to pitch. That's the bottom line. My first two months here were horrible. I was out of whack."

And to think, it began with such promise.

Acquired from Minnesota last winter, Romero was supposed to give the Angels bullpen the veteran left-handed presence it lacked for so long, and he did in the April 3 season opener, pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam to help the Angels beat Seattle, 5-4. In his first four games, Romero did not give up a run in 4 1/3 innings.

But his season declined rapidly from that point, mechanical difficulties and a lack of command sending his ERA soaring to a high of 8.71 in early June. Romero was reduced to mop-up man, a label he spent all summer trying to shed and actually has -- kind of -- in the last month.

Though Romero has struggled against right-handers, who are batting .389 against him, he has done well against left-handers, limiting them to a .229 mark.

So, Manager Mike Scioscia has been using Romero exclusively against left-handers, one batter and out, in the fifth or sixth inning, not the late-inning specialist role Romero envisioned but a slight step above mop-up duty.

Romero has given up two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings of his last 12 appearances but is often bypassed in favor of Scot Shields in the seventh and eighth innings.

"Things haven't gone the way I wanted, but that's the nature of the game," said Romero, an integral part of the Twins bullpen the last two seasons, with a 3.51 ERA in 2004 and a 3.47 ERA in 2005. "I've been feeling good, but there's certain guys they have to go to. It's very unfamiliar territory for me, but I have to roll with the punches."

Romero, 30, would love to return "with a fresh start" next season, but it's highly unlikely the Angels will pick up his $2.75-million option, which has a $250,000 buyout.

"I take everything as a learning experience," Romero said. "Hopefully, these struggles will make me a stronger player and person."


Though Monday's off day provides an opportunity to skip Joe Saunders in the rotation -- the rookie left-hander was rocked for seven runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings of Wednesday's 9-0 loss to the White Sox -- Scioscia said Thursday that "as of right now, we're going to keep the rotation the same."

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