Romero's new (old) weapon

The story in today's Inquirer of the Phillies' 10-7 win over the Mets last night focuses on the work of the two lefthanders, Antonio Bastardo and J.C. Romero. They combined for eight outs in the middle of the game, where the Phillies had few options, and held a New York offense that had gained all sort of momentum at bay.

As I noted in the game story, Bastardo and Romero are at such opposite points in their careers. Bastardo is the young talent with the stuff looking for a shot in big situations. Romero took a paycut to return to Philadelphia and questions about his ability linger after two shaky seasons.*

For one night, at least, both were very good. Bastardo allowed a run but stranded the bases loaded. Then he mowed through the middle of the Mets lineup in the sixth.

There will be calls for Bastardo to earn higher leverage opportunities and the 25-year-old pitcher says he's ready.

"I'm looking for the chance," he said. "I tried to do my best."

But we'll focus on Romero because of something he said after the game. His seventh was intriguing. He faced three batters -- two righties and one lefty. Only the lefty, Ike Davis, reached on a single after Romero had him at a 1-2 count.

How will this Phillies season turn out?

  • 291 (67.1%)
  • 103 (23.7%)
  • 40 (9.2%)
  • 434

The two righties were retired on changeups; Angel Pagan popped out to third and Brad Emaus grounded into an inning-ending double play.

When Romero was at his best for the Phillies in 2007 and 2008, he threw his changeup a lot. Thanks to the amazing website that is, we can track the usage of the change:

2007: 18.1%
2008: 12.6%
2009: 15.4%
2010: 8.0%

FanGraphs also assigns value to every pitch a pitcher uses. In both 2007 and 2008, Romero's changeup was by far his second-most valuable pitch. In 2009, it was actually his most valuable pitch, but that was a small sample size (16 2/3 IP).

"I used to be a fastball-changeup guy," Romero said, "especially when I came over here. But with the surgery, it's taken me a while to trust my elbow."

The point is Romero's slider has not been a good enough secondary pitch to go along with the fastball. Without the changeup, he had to rely on the slider more to change hitters' views. Or, he would just throw more fastballs, which left him suseptible to easy predictability.

(Romero threw his fastball 72.2 percent of the time in 2010, his highest rate since 2003.)

Romero said the changeup can be best against righthanders, whom he had terrible control problems against last season. The key, Romero said, will be if you see righthanded batters pulling out of the box.

The difference in velocity on the fastball and changeup was about 11 m.p.h. when Romero was at his best. Last season, although he used the changeup less frequently, the speed difference remained the same.

That is a good sign for Romero, who many will (fairly) remain skeptical about until he can show some semblance of consistency. This, at least, could be a step in the right direction.

* Worth noting: Apparently the Red Sox could cut lefty Dennys Reyes in the coming days. He has allowed six of 10 batters he's faced to reach base. He, of course, agreed in principle to a deal with the Phillies before negotiations fell apart. They then went to Romero.

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