Programming note: Giants Insider Andrew Baggarly is in Arizona; check back for his coverage throughout spring training and watch SportsNet Central nightly at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the day’s MLB news.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The spring numbers don’t look pretty for Sergio Romo.
He has appeared four times, pitched three-plus innings, allowed 11 hits and has a 33.00 ERA. In his last outing against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday, Romo didn’t retire any of the five batters he faced. It was three hits, two walks – one with the bases loaded – and then the showers.
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The Giants will tell you that the story extends beyond the box score, though. Romo has thrown almost exclusively fastballs and changeups this spring. He is keeping his boomerang slider lashed behind his back. Before he draws his sharpest weapon, he wants to prove he can stand and fight in close combat.
So far, he’s taken his lumps.
After Sunday morning’s workout, though, Romo shook hands with someone who has battled in the arena more than almost anyone in baseball history. Lee Smith has more career saves (478) than all but two pitchers on the planet.
And as Smith's catcher’s mitt of a hand swallowed Romo’s hand, the old right-hander passed on some encouragement.
“Keep doing what you’re doing, man,” Smith said.
Much will be made of Barry Bonds’ arrival as a special instructor on Monday; the Giants are proud to have a litany of former stars in uniform every spring, including Jeff Kent, Robb Nen, Randy Winn and Rich Aurilia.
But many Giants fans might not know that for the past 15 years, they’ve had a seven-time All-Star on their payroll. Smith, the game’s all-time saves leader before Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera passed him up, began his affiliation with the Giants in 2000 when he joined the Double-A Shreveport club, 50 miles down the road from his farmstead, as a pitching coach. The franchise has moved to Norwich, Conn, and now Richmond – nowhere near Smith’s cornfields – but he has remained in the organization as a roving instructor. (And in pickup basketball games with the coaches, he provides his side with an unfair advantage in the post.)
Smith is seldom on the major league side in spring training because he’s working with the kids. But ask him about Romo’s approach this spring and watch his eyes light up.
“Every year, I had to adjust,” said Smith, who saved at least 30 games in eight different seasons. “Even if you have pinpoint control, every year the hitters will adjust to you. My first year, I’d get in a 2-2 count, and it’s, `I’m throwing fastball and getting you out.’
The next year? Well, there’s a reason Smith once described a walk-off home run he surrendered as “Two and two to the barbecue.”
Smith recalled one spring in 1994 when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles.
“That was a good one,” he said with a laugh. “Peter Gammons wrote, `Well, he doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, so he’s going to throw his breaking ball and split more.’ I guess everybody read it because I started throwing more fastballs and getting people out.”
Maybe Romo has the same idea: get the writers to crank out copy and scouts to jot reports that he isn’t throwing the slider. And then throw the slider.
Or maybe Romo is saving as much wear and tear as possible on his elbow before the season.
Or maybe he looked beyond last year’s All-Star appearance and his solid save percentage (88.4), and noted that his hits per nine innings went up (from 6.0 to 7.9) while his strikeouts per nine went down (from 10.2 to 8.7).
Most likely, he noticed that left-handed hitters had more success against him (a .279 average, way up from .167 the previous year).
Giants manager Bruce Bochy continues to insist that Romo is fine tuning and there is nothing physically the matter with him. If that’s true, then give him credit for continuing to stand in there and throw jabs. It would be all too easy to fight with tempered steel.
“The whole world knows that he has that pitch,” Smith said. “So if he wants to work on something else, this is the time to do it.”