Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano enjoyed a breakout 2021 season in which he led the team with 23 saves, pitched to a 2.14 ERA and struck out more than a third of his opponents. It was an impressive enough campaign based on those numbers alone, but Romano tells Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun that an MRI conducted after the season revealed a torn meniscus in his left knee that required surgery. Romano believes the injury occurred in the team’s return game at the Rogers Centre while he was covering first base, which would mean he pitched the final two months of the year with some degree of a tear in his knee.
Playing through the discomfort didn’t seem to hinder the 28-year-old’s performance, however. Romano pitched to a pristine 1.69 ERA following that late-July appearance — including an 11-inning scoreless stretch to close out the 2021 season. His velocity, meanwhile, continued to build as the season wore on. He averaged a huge 97.9 mph on his heater following the knee injury. Romano and the Jays knew he wasn’t at 100 percent down the stretch, as he tells Longley they “worked hard on just getting it stable enough to be able to throw on it for the rest of the season.”
Now six weeks out from surgery, Romano is on pace for a normal Spring Training and 2022 season — assuming the lockout is resolved in time. If that’s indeed the case, he’ll head to Dunedin assured a high-leverage role in the Jays’ bullpen again, having turned in dominant results in both 2020 and 2021. While this past season was Romano’s first full year of big league success, he also tossed 14 2/3 innings with a 1.23 ERA back in 2020. Overall, he boasts a 1.97 ERA with a 34.2% strikeout rate, a 9.7% walk rate and a 48.8% ground-ball rate in his past 77 2/3 big league innings.
The former tenth-rounder’s recent breakout could well have happened with another club, as the Jays left him unprotected in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft. The White Sox selected Romano and quickly flipped him to the Rangers for cash, but Texas cut him late in camp and returned him to Toronto after he went unclaimed on waivers. Romano was in the big leagues three months later, and while he struggled during his initial 2019 debut, he now looks entrenched as a vital late-inning arm for manager Charlie Montoyo.
With two years and 51 days of Major League service time, Romano isn’t yet arbitration-eligible and won’t reach free agency until the completion of the 2025 campaign. That, of course, is assuming the current arbitration structure and free agency qualifications remain unchanged in the next collective bargaining agreement.
Whether Romano will reprise his role as closer likely depends on the Blue Jays’ moves once the lockout is lifted. Toronto already added one veteran reliever, signing Yimi Garcia to a two-year pact, and they’ve added some depth with a minor league deal for David Phelps and a waiver claim (and subsequent outright) of Shaun Anderson. Still, there’s ample room for another addition of note. Romano, Garcia, lefty Tim Mayza and in-season acquisitions Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards all enjoyed excellent 2021 campaigns — but the rest of the bullpen still carries some uncertainty.
Longley also chatted with Romano about his offseason training, his 2022 goals and the 2021 Jays falling one game shy of the playoffs in a separate interview that Jays fans, in particular, will want to check out.