DUNEDIN, Fla. — Seven years and a world of experience separate Marcus Stroman and Ricky Romero.
Stroman, 22, is climbing the Blue Jays pitching ladder. Romero, 29, is trying to find a handle after falling more than a few rungs.
Both left Florida Auto Exchange Stadium with positives Wednesday despite a 5-4 exhibition loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in a game decided by Jerry Sands’ ninth-inning solo homer off Chad Jenkins.
Stroman gave up three runs on five hits in the first four innings, striking out three and walking one.
The good was the first two innings, the bad was a somewhat rocky third salvaged by a spectacular double play courtesy of Jose Reyes and Ryan Goins, and the ugly was a rocket launched in the fourth by Jeremy Moore.
Romero, whose career has staggered from Opening Day starter to professional limbo, gave up one run on two hits while striking out three and walking two in his four innings.
Apart from a hiccup in the sixth, he got the job done. In three outings (seven innings) this spring, Romero has given up just two runs.
“They both did really good today,” said manager John Gibbons. “Ricky’s moving in the right direction.”
Romero was especially sharp in the fourth and eighth.
He opened with two strikeouts and a groundout in a 10-pitch inning. He was slated to go just three innings but went four at the request of pitching coach Pete Walker. Romero made quick work of the Rays in the eighth with a flyout, groundout and strikeout.
Romero saw action in just four outings in the majors last season and has had just about every part of his game put under the microscope. For that reason, he refuses to get ahead of himself these days.
“I’ve been through so much that I’ve learned to stay in the present and not look ahead or not look behind and start overthinking and what not,” he said. “For me, it’s a positive every time I come here and get work done. It feels good, whether it’s in a game, in the bullpen or towel drills (where pitcher throw a towel instead of a ball to alleviate arm stress), or what not, I feel good about myself.
“That’s been the biggest key. Staying in the present right now, not looking ahead. Everything else will take care of itself. All I can do is go out there and pitch and audition,” he added with a laugh.
Stroman wobbled in the third inning when he loaded the bases with no outs on a double, single, and a walk.
A Desmond Jennings bloop single knocked in one run and the Rays scored another through Ali Solis when Matt Joyce hit into the Reyes-Goins double play.
“An unbelievable play,” said Stroman, who then took matters into his own hands.
The five-foot-nine 185-pounder stabbed a hot shot on the mound to escape the inning trailing 2-0.
Jeremy Moore, a 26-year-old minor leaguer, homered off Stroman to make it 3-0 in the fourth with a shot that cleared the 36-foot-high batter’s eye looming behind the centre-field fence 400 feet away. Tampa added another run in the sixth.
Toronto rallied for four runs in the sixth, powered by Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run homer.
“I thought it was better,” Stroman said of his outing Wednesday. “Not exactly where I wanted to be but I definitely made some better pitches than I made in my last outing. My stuff felt better for the most part.”
He was happy with his cutter other than the delivery to Moore, which stayed over the middle of the plate.
“A really bad pitch,” he said.
“He did what he should have done. Hit a long ways,” he added.
Stroman is likely destined to the minors, to gather more seasoning. He declined to bite when reporters quizzed him on whether he is in the mix for one of the openings in the Jays’ rotation.
“I’m not even concerned with that at all,” he said. “I’m trying to get ready for the season, doing everything I can to get my pitches exactly where they need to be so when Opening Day comes, I’m ready to pitch wherever I may be. That’s all I’m concerned about.”
Romero also declined to say where he saw himself on the depth chart.
“You know what? I’m not really worried about it,” he said. “Whatever I do out there is going to dictate my future.”