One of Sergio Romo’s signature moments as the Giants’ closer was his 12-pitch battle against the Cincinnati Reds’ Jay Bruce in Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series.
Romo, then newly installed as closer, won the at-bat by inducing a flyout to help send the Giants ultimately to their second World Series title in three seasons.
Sunday morning, before the Giants’ 4-0 loss to the Reds, manager Bruce Bochy informed Romo he was being removed as full-time closer. The Giants will, for now, go with a by-committee approach, with right-hander Santiago Casilla and left-hander Jeremy Affeldt the likely top options for ninth-inning duties.
The move came after Romo blew his third save in his past five chances Saturday night in the Giants’ 7-3, 11-inning loss to Cincinnati. The Giants led 1-0 when Romo entered in the ninth. He walked Joey Votto before allowing a go-ahead home run to Brandon Phillips – the sixth homer Romo has allowed this year, equaling the highest total in any of his prior major-league seasons.
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“He’s done a great job; it’s fair to say he’s having his struggles,” Bochy said. “I think we can help him late in the ballgame, and he’ll still be part of the mix. But we’re going to back it off a little bit and do it by committee.”
Romo appeared headed for his second consecutive All-Star Game less than a month ago, converting 20 of his first 22 save opportunities as the Giantsraced to the majors’ best record. But in his past 12 outings, over 11 innings, the right-hander has allowed 13 earned runs and now has a 5.17 ERA on the season. Bochy said Romo will be used to help secure “the last six outs, maybe a big out in the seventh.”
“I’m OK with the decision; it is what it is,” Romo told reporters as he left the clubhouse Sunday afternoon. “I’m going to get a chance. And when I get a chance, I’m going to be ready to rock.”
Casilla closed previously for the Giants and shown the ability to get both right- and left-handers out. He has retired 14 of 15 batters he has faced in five outings since coming off the disabled list June 6. Affeldt could also close in situations where multiple left-handed hitter are due up, Bochy said.
Affeldt had allowed one run in 15 appearances before Sunday but had a shaky outing in the Giants’ loss. He entered in the ninth inning with the Giants trailing 1-0, faced five hitters and retired one on a sacrifice fly as the Reds scored three times. The rally provided some insurance for starter Homer Bailey, who held the Giants hitless until Buster Posey singled in the seventh inning. Bailey pitched his fourth career shutout, and his first since he no-hit the Giants last season.
The loss capped a month that ended in free fall for the Giants, who have lost 15 of their past 19 games and were swept in a four-game series for the first time at AT&T Park. They were outscored in the series 20-6 and saw the last vestiges of the 91/2-game lead they held in the N.L. West on June 8 disappear. After the Dodgers beat the Cardinals on Sunday, the Giants awake today tied with Los Angeles in the standings.
“You look at what’s happened the last two weeks, you’d think we’re 15 games back,” Bochy said. “That’s why we have to look at the big picture, where we’re at, not what’s happened. We’re in a fight now.”
As for Romo’s role in that fight, Bochy said the right-hander could still pitch in the ninth inning if a matchup favors him, but he’ll more likely occupy the set-up job he held before taking over as closer for Casilla in late 2012. Romo has saved 74 games over the past three seasons.
Saturday, Romo looked vulnerable throwing his signature slider, particularly to right-handers. Phillips homered on a two-strike slider – the sixth slider of the at-bat – and Romo recorded two outs on fly balls to the warning track in left field by right-handers who jumped on sliders.
That led Bochy to be asked whether Romo’s issue lately has been with being predictable – hitters know he throws the slider nearly half the time, though he worked this spring on improving his changeup – or if he’s just not throwing the slider as sharply as usual. Bochy said it’s likely a little of both.
“With Sergio, I think it’s fair to say most teams know he’s going to go with his slider, that’s his bread and butter,” Bochy said. “But it gets back to being consistent with it.
“Recently, particularly when the inning gets a little stretched out, is when he makes his mistakes. He’ll leave one up. And, of course, they’re looking for the slider more so than the other pitches. And they’re not missing.”