While allowing Saturday afternoon that closer Sergio Romo had pitched with better command and more efficiency in his past two outings following a shaky stretch at the end of May, Giants manager Bruce Bochy expressed indignation that such a question was even being raised.
Romo allowed runs in three consecutive outings from May 20 to 29, and Bochy told reporters in St. Louis the coaches had spotted a slight issue with the closer’s mechanics. Despite that, Romo began Saturday leading the majors with 19 saves after nailing down the Giants’ 4-2 victory over the Mets on Friday night with a 10-pitch ninth inning, his second 1-2-3 outing in a row.
“I know he had a couple where runners got on,” Bochy said. “With another closer that was the norm – that question was never asked. Now Romo gets a couple guys on and there’s speculation something was wrong. He’s fine. … He’s done a great job.”
Romo had converted 19 of 21 save opportunities entering Saturday, and while his ERA was at 3.24 following the late-May hiccup, he was holding opponents to a lower batting average (.172) and allowing fewer walks and hits per nine innings (0.80) than in his All-Star season in 2013.
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More than anything, Romo said, the three outings in May served as “just kind of a mental kick in the butt.”
“Not that I was lacking in confidence, but not being as effective as you would like to be in certain situations for your teammates, it’s a hard pill to swallow at times,” Romo said. “I think (recently) it’s been just getting back to that ‘I’m a believer’ mindset.”
If so, there are areas Romo can draw from in the season’s first two months. One point of emphasis for Romo coming into the season was getting left-handers out more consistently.They hit .279 against him in 2013. So far, he has done so – Romo was holding left-handers to a .188 average entering Saturday. He retired the two he faced Friday night in New York’s Matt den Dekker and Daniel Murphy on a combined four pitches.
Romo also dedicated much of the spring to improving his changeup, largely in response to those numbers against left-handed hitters, as the changeup’s movement runs away from a left-hander rather than in like Romo’s signature slider.
As of Saturday, Romo was throwing the changeup more than twice as often as in 2013 – 15.7 percent of his pitches compared to 6.5 percent last year, according to Fangraphs.com – and Bochy said he believes it’s been “a big reason why he’s had more success against left-handed hitters.”
Romo also said the changeup is “helping out,” but attributed the improvement against left-handers to a broader theme.
“I think it’s just executing, and kind of getting lucky, too, in a sense,” Romo said. “Pitching isn’t really about swinging and missing, it’s kind of about having them just mishit it or hit it to where my guys are, and (I’ve) kind of just been pitching more to contact, I think.”
Indeed, Romo’s strikeout rate – which peaked at 13.1 in 2011 when he recorded 70 strikeouts and five walks in 48 innings – has dropped to 6.8 per nine innings this season. His average of 8.7 per nine last year matched his career-low in the majors, but Romo did not sound concerned about the decline.
“I don’t really feel that I’m a strikeout guy,” he said. “I do feel that it’s possible for me to get strikeouts, to go for one and get it. But I’m just trying to get outs, pitching to contact. I’m not focused on that.”
That may sound odd coming from a pitcher who averaged more than a strikeout an inning every season from 2009 to 2012 and whose signature moment is throwing a fastball past Miguel Cabrera for a called third strike to end the 2012 World Series. Romo, though, said he sees baseball as being “all about adjustments.”
“When the game adjusts to you, you’ve got to adjust right back,” Romo said. “There are more efficient ways to get the job done – or other efficient ways, I guess, to get the job done than strikeouts.”
Having secured 19 of the Giants’ first 40 wins, Romo was already halfway to his career-high 38 saves set last season. As for leading the majors in the category, Romo said: “I just know the way we play, I’m going to get opportunities to pitch in quality situations. As long as I can get the job done when I’m asked to, more frequently than not, I’ll worry about that more than leading the majors at any point.”