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SAN FRANCISCO – Sergio Romo is officially out as the Giants’ closer – for now, anyway.
Manager Bruce Bochy talked to the struggling right-hander on Sunday and informed him that the club would go into committee mode, with Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla receiving most of the save situations as matchups warrant. Romo could pitch in the sixth or seventh inning, Bochy said.
Romo blew his third save in his last five tries Saturday when Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips cranked a two-run home run in the Giants’ eventual 7-3, 11-inning loss. Romo has allowed 15 runs over his last 15 innings and his six home runs allowed already match his single-season high.
“I think it’s time to tweak it a little bit,” Bochy said Sunday. “I said, `You know what? We’ll do this committee here and get going.’ Sergio, he’s done a great job but it’s fair to say he’s had his struggles. He’s still going to be a part of the mix.”
How did Romo, who has served as the closer since midway through 2012 and threw the clinching pitch in the World Series to strike out Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera that October, take the news?
“He was fine,” Bochy said. “I’m sure it wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but he’s a team guy. I think it’s time to lighten the load on him a little bit.”
Romo has 22 saves in 27 chances this season and was a big part of the Giants’ success as they raced to a 9 ½-game lead in the NL West. But even in some of his conversions, there were signs of trouble. He hung way more sliders than usual, and more recently, they aren’t getting fouled back.
It’s not an illusion. According to PitchFX, opponents are hitting .250 against Romo’s sliders, and he has allowed five of his six home runs on the pitch while throwing it 244 times. Last year, opponents hit .140 against the slider, and only one of the 506 he threw got taken deep.
They hit .162 with two homers in 2012, .133 with two homers in ’11, .144 with two homers in ’10 and .175 with one homer in ’09.
The fact Romo is somewhat predictable for opponents makes the inconsistent slider a double whammy: He’s leaving it over the plate, and hitters are expecting it.
“The pitch sequence can get a little predictable but with Sergio, it’s fair to say teams know he’ll go with his slider,” Bochy said. “That’s his bread and butter. It gets back to being consistent with it. Especially when the inning gets stretched out, that’s when he makes his mistakes with it. And of course they're looking for the slider more than other pitches, and they’re not missing it.
Why not just name Casilla the closer, putting him in the role where he succeeded before a blister led to Romo’s ascension midway through the 2012 season? Bochy said he likes the way Affeldt is throwing, and if lefties are due up in the ninth, he’ll go that way.
Bochy also said the club needs to get Jean Machi ironed out after two rough outings following a 25.1-inning scoreless streak. The manager blamed himself for perhaps giving Machi too much rest at times this month.
This closer change is about more than Romo. When a team has lost 14 of 18, the last thing you want is to get caught doing the same thing in loss after loss. For the spirit of the group, it was time for a change, too.
“You keep doing what you’re doing, you keep getting what you’re getting,” Bochy said. “And sometimes a change can be good for the player, too.”
At least the Giants will get back some key players soon. Bochy said he remains hopeful Angel Pagan (lower back) will be able to come off the DL and start Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals. And Brandon Belt, who was 3 for 4 with two doubles for Triple-A Fresno in a rehab game Saturday night, could join the club earlier than expected, too.
Bochy said it would be extremely doubtful Belt (fractured left thumb) would return on Tuesday for the Cardinals series. But the outlook is brightening that he’d be deemed ready to return when the Giants start their next road series Friday in San Diego.