After a thrilling Opening Day win on the heels of a four-run comeback, the San Francisco Giants ought to feel like they stole a game from the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks, but Sergio Romo has suddenly become a question mark at the back end of the club’s bullpen. It would be somewhat erratic to state the Giants need to remove Romo, their closer who recorded the 27th out in 38 games in 2013, from his inherent role, but the 31-year-old veteran could be past his prime.
Romo struggled throughout Spring Training, posting a 12.38 ERA while allowing 11 hits in 8.0 innings of work. Those struggles nearly translated into a blown save on Opening Day. Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero crushed a lead-off solo home run off a lazy change-up to narrow Arizona’s deficit to one run in the ninth inning. In the end, Romo was able to shut the door on the D’Backs and earn the save, but it appears as though he no longer features the same bite on some of his go-to pitches as he used to.
Romo isn’t a prototypical closer in that he doesn’t showcase a blistering fastball in his repertoire. According to FanGraphs.com, Romo’s fastball tops out around 89 mph. Velocity didn’t matter in Game 4 of the 2012 World Series when Miguel Cabrera spit on a perfectly placed 89 mph fastball from Romo while sitting on a slider to crown the Giants champions. That pitch won’t be as effective this season if Romo continues to toss up batting practice change-ups and sliders to left-handed hitters, to whom he’s most vulnerable.
Throughout his career, the slider has been Romo’s signature pitch. His nasty no-dot slider has accounted for a whopping 47.3 percent of his pitches thrown in the big leagues over the course of seven seasons. “No-dot” essentially means that hitters are unable to identify the pitch as a slider when it leaves Romo’s grip. This differs from a traditional slider in that big league hitters are sometimes able to recognize the pitch as a slider because the rotation of the ball creates a white “dot” where the seams are virtually hidden.
Romo has been able to sustain success at the major league level because he’s able to effectively hide the dot on the bottom part of the ball. His slider, which averages roughly 78 mph over the course of his career, pairs well with his change-up because of the similarities in velocity. When Romo hurls a change-up toward the plate and a hitter is sitting on a slider, the pitch won’t drop off the plate, making the hitter look foolish. Romo’s change-up ranges from 80 to 82 mph. Although he doesn’t heavily rely on this pitch, he uses it to steal strikes. The fact that his change-up has become less effective is going to cause problems. In fact, it already has.