Romero Fires

Ricky Romero angles for Jays rotation

TORONTO — Ricky Romero has been considered a bit of  a disappointment since he was taken in the first round from Cal State Fullerton in the 2005 draft.

As spring training began, the lefthander had fallen behind two other lefthanded starting pitchers, Brett Cecil and Brad Mills. Cecil was given the start for the opening game of the Grapefruit League schedule and, in two innings, gave up a run, hit (a home run), a walk and struck out four.

Romero was the second pitcher in the game against the Yankees and in 12⁄3 innings allowed two runs on Alex Rodriguez's home run.

Romero has slipped to eighth this year from fifth in BA's Jays rankings. Cecil is third and Mills  is seventh.

But Romero, who turned 24 in November, is coming off a strong second half last season that ended with a stint at Triple-A Syracuse. He came to spring training early amid optimism that he was ready to build on that strong finish in 2008.

"I'm going to be cautiously optimistic with Ricky this year," minor league pitching instructor Dane Johnson said. "I think he's going to continue to make strides and put himself in a position to make himself a nice major league pitcher. He looks to be right where he left off last year at Syracuse."

Romero was 8-8, 4.55 last season, going 5-5, 4.96 in 21 starts at Double-A New Hampshire before going 3-3, 3.38 in seven starts at Syracuse. His final two starts were each seven-inning outings in which he allowed no earned runs and two earned runs, respectively.

Johnson said Romero required mechanical adjustments when came into the organization as the sixth pick overall in 2005.

"He struggled with his delivery, getting comfortable on the mound and executing his pitches." Johnson said. "He's got four solid pitches now. He made tremendous progress in the last three to four months of the season last year and I just saw him in the spring. I'm very happy with what I see right now out of him. He's pounding the zone, he's comfortable now, he's got that fire back in his eyes, he's got the confidence to throw the ball in the zone again."

Johnson went on.

"When he first came in, he wasn't pounding the zone like he probably wanted to or could have," Johnson said. "We had to tweak some of the mechanical things that he was doing. Just get him to stay over the rubber and not rush to the plate. To me he was more of a thrower when he came in and was out-stuffing guys.

"It doesn't work at a professional level for an extended period of time," Johnson added. "You're going to get away with it at the lower levels but when you start climbing the ladder you're going to get more experienced hitters, they're going to take you on, they're going to get you in their counts, they're going to swing the bats on you."

— Righthander Dirk Hayhurst was signed to a minor league contract. Hayhurst, 27, appeared in 10 games, three starts, for the Padres in 2008 and was 0-2, 9.72. He was claimed on waivers in October but released in February.

— The Jays released Hayhurst to make room for embattled righthander Matt Bush, a 2004 first-round pick (as a shortstop) whose off-field issues led the Padres to swap him for a player to be named later or cash considerations.