Lefty Romero settles in with Cardinals

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Sweating on a stool in front of his locker and surrounded by his new teammates in the St. Louis clubhouse, pitcher J.C. Romero looked quite comfortable in the spot where he thought he would be a year ago.

The 35-year-old left-hander had expected to sign with Cardinals prior to last season. Instead, he bounced between four organizations and six different major and minor league teams.

“I thought I had a deal worked out (with St. Louis) but it didn’t happen,” Romero said. “From the past I always enjoyed coming to St. Louis and I always enjoyed watching them from the other side, how they execute the game.”

Romero said he doesn’t think much about missing out on the Cardinals’ run to the World Series title last season. “Things happen for a reason,” he said.

And though he is not sporting a 2011 World Series ring, Romero does recognize the championship energy that has permeated the opening days of Cardinals’ camp. He experienced a similar atmosphere in the spring of 2009, months after he helped Philadelphia win the World Series.

“They are hungry,” Romero said. “They are looking forward to this season knowing that they have a title they have to defend, but at the same time they are going for a second straight title.”

Romero is not expected to play a marquee role, though he likely will be asked to take the mound frequently. As the Cardinals’ left-handed specialist, Romero will likely only have to face one or two batters in an outing. It’s a role in which he’s been effective.

Since 2000, Romero has appeared in 659 games, most among active left-handed pitchers. Twice during that time he’s pitched in 81 games in a season.

This year, he wants more.

“My personal goal is to try getting 82,” Romero said.

Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist isn’t sure that’s a goal he wants Romero to reach.

“That’s a lot of games,” Lilliquist said.

It’s more likely the Cardinals spread out Romero’s appearances in an effort to keep him healthy throughout the season. There is reason to watch Romero’s workload closely.

Romero underwent flexor tendon repair surgery in his throwing arm following the 2009 season. He pitched in 60 games for the Phillies in 2010, with a 3.68 ERA that exceeded 3.00 for the first time since 2006.

Romero struggled again in 2011, eventually getting waived by the Phillies. He bounced from the Nationals to the Yankees’ minor league systems before ending the season back in the majors with Colorado.

“Toward the end of last year I felt that my command was outstanding,” Romero said. “This offseason, I went in with a little clarity and a different mindset. I went through my pens knowing I was healthy.”

The initial reaction to Romero’s 2012 camp performance has been positive.

“I was pleasantly surprised with his change-up,” Lilliquist said following Romero’s first workout. “There are some things moving forward we will address in terms of his breaking ball and maybe the spin for his change-up. It looks like he’s in a good frame of mind and that’s good for the bullpen.”

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