Entering the 2002 season, the Minnesota Twins didn't know what to expect
from J.C. Romero. The 26-year-old lefthander had compiled a miserable 3-11 record
and 6.39 ERA as a starter in parts of two major league seasons. With Eddie Guardado
shifting to closer, Romero was asked to step into his vacated role of primary left handed set-up man. Romero not only filled that role, he thrived. The reliever
posted a 9-2 record with a microscopic 1.89 ERA and was integral part of the Twins drive to the American League Championship
"I've matured, I have a little more knowledge of what hitters are going
to do," Romero said of his 2002 success. "I have a little more experience now,
and having guys like Mike Jackson, Eddie (Guardado), and LaTroy (Hawkins) in the bullpen everyday - hey have a lot of knowledge. If you are open to learn everyday you can be successful."
Prior to the 2002 season the Twins replaced longtime pitching coach Dick
Such with minor league instructor Rick Anderson. Many credit Anderson for Romero's
turnaround. "I don't compare them (Such and Anderson)," Romero commented. "My
relationship with Rick Anderson is a lot closer because I had him in the minor leagues, so that helps me tremendously. (Anderson) is like a father to me, I went through the minor leagues with him and he
taught me a lot of things. Now we are up in the big show and it is a lot of fun."
Romero, whose 81 appearances ranked second in the AL, is always ready to
take the mound. "I try to prepare myself mentally and physically - knowing that I am going to be able to pitch; that I am
going to have a chance to pitch," he explained. "Even if I dont pitch, I just
try to come in here and prepare myself and develop a routine. Everyday I do the
same thing and then by the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning I am ready to go."
Romero exudes confidence on the mound.
His strut, fiery fist pumps, aggressiveness, and overall machismo bring an excitement to the game that can intimidate
and infuriate hitters. Romero, however, chooses to downplay his exploits. "I
just want to establish my game. If (hitters) are intimidated or not, that's not up to me," the native Puerto Rican said. "I just try to approach the game the right way.
I don't take any hitter lightly - I approach them like they are all superstars because that's the way it is. We are all in the big leagues - we are all great players."
Most relievers have an "out" pitch in which they rely on in key points
of the game. Romero, however, can pick several out of his repertoire. "One day
it could be my slider, one day it could be my change-up," the southpaw explained. "That
is one thing that being a starter helped me out with. Even though I struggled
(in that role) and my career numbers weren't good, I developed my pitches and got comfortable using all of them."
Romero's attitude and variety of pitches seem to be tailor made for the
closer's role. With incumbent Eddie Guardado eligible for free agency following
the 2003 season, there is speculation that Romero may be the Twins' closer the future.
"It (becoming a closer) is thought that goes through my mind, but now I am just trying to control what is in my hands
which is being a setup man and setting the tone for Eddie Guardado," Romero said. "If
it happens in the future - who knows? For right now, I'll do what I can
to help the team win and have fun doing it."
Veteran reliever Mike Jackson, a former closer, believes Romero is cut
out for the role. "He has the makeup (to be a closer) - he throws hard enough, he doesn't walk a lot of guys, and he's
aggressive - he comes right after guys when he has to challenge them," Jackson explained.
"I think in time he'll have the opportunity to be a closer."
Despite his success Romero remains humble,
"There is always room for improvement, one thing I need to work on is knocking the walks down a little bit," he commented. "Coming in as a reliever, the fewer guys you have on base, the better chance you have
of getting out of a jam. I need to work on my command and concentration so I
don't walk people."
The Minnesota Twins roster is filled with young, talented players, including
Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, A.J. Pierzynski, Eric Milton, and Cristian Guzman. However,
no single player is more vital to their success than reliever J.C. Romero. The left-handed set-up man is called upon to get key outs in late innings nightly,
and rarely fails. If the Twins are going to build upon their success in 2002
and bring a World Series back to Minnesota, they will need another dominant year from J.C. Romero.-David Zingler