Six innings wasn’t enough for Ricky Romero, even with his pitch count at 101. Toronto relievers needed a break after back-to-back extra-inning losses, so the rookie left-hander appealed to manager Cito Gaston and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg for a bit more work.
“After the sixth inning, I actually went up to Arnie and Cito and said, ‘Let me go one more. I think I have enough in the tank,”‘ Romero said. “I just went out there and battled with what I had.”
Romero got through the seventh without much ado and departed after his 118th pitch – his most since college – to take at least a little of the strain off the bullpen in the Blue Jays’ 9-4 win over the Washington Nationals on Sunday
“The last inning is probably the best inning he pitched,” Gaston said.
Romero (4-3) allowed two runs and eight hits, Lyle Overbay had five RBIs and the Blue Jays avoided the unsavoury distinction of becoming the first team to be swept by the bottom-dwelling Nationals. Overbay’s 3-for-5 day included a middle-deck solo homer in the third as Toronto finished 4-2 on a six-game road trip.
“It was tough losing two on walk-offs,” Romero said. “It was really tough to swallow. I think our clubhouse yesterday was hurting. I was just going to go out there and do my job, and my job was to have a quality start.”
The loss snapped a season-high four-game winning streak for the Nationals, who took the last two of three against the New York Yankees and the first two against the Blue Jays.
Washington’s young starters and hodgepodge of relievers allowed only six runs in those four games, but Shairon Martis (5-2) equalled that number in five innings of work Sunday. The Nationals offence remained stagnant, going 1-for-10 against Romero with runners in scoring position.
“The whole week we were carried by our pitching and our defence in New York,” manager Manny Acta said. “And we need our hitting to come around. If you look on the board, 12 hits or whatever, that’s not offence. Hits don’t win ballgames; hits with runners in scoring position win ballgames, and we haven’t been able to do that lately.”
Romero bailed himself out of trouble more than once, allowing at least two runners on base in four of the first five innings. He struck out Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn back-to-back on pitches in the dirt with runners on first and second in the first inning and induced inning-ending double plays in the fifth and sixth. The only scoreboard damage against Romero came on Josh Bard’s two-run single in the second.
Helping the rookie’s cause were competing slumps from Washington’s No. 3 and No. 5 hitters. Zimmerman went 0-for-5 to extend his skid to 0-for-17, while Austin Kearns was 0-for-2 to put his slide at 0-for-15.
“Three bad games – out of how many?” said Zimmerman, whose average fell to .293. “I think that’s what’s going on. It happens to everybody.”
Even though Romero pitched seven innings, Gaston needed four relievers to finish the game. Jeremy Accardo lasted one batter in the eighth before succumbing to dehydration and a cramp in his right calf. Brandon League finished the inning without a blemish, but Jesse Carlson allowed two runs in the ninth before giving way to Jason Frasor for the final out.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, scored all but one of their runs with two outs – and all but two after having two outs and nobody on base – making for a frustrating day for a Nationals team hoping to maintain a rare spate of momentum.
“You’ve got to be able to smell the blood in the water when you’ve got two outs with nobody on,” Acta said, “and finish up the hitters and get out of there.”
NOTES: Toronto 3B Scott Rolen (2-for-4) extended his hitting streak to 11 games. … Martis, who won his first five decisions, is 0-2 in his last seven starts. … Though denied their chance for this sweep, the Nationals will get one retroactively if they win a suspended game against Houston that is scheduled to resume on July 9. Washington won the opener of that two-game series, and the second game was halted by rain on May 5 with the score tied.