Lefty Romero settles in with Cardinals

Sitting 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

before 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 key role, though he likely will

be asked to take the mound frequently. As the Cardinals’

left-handed specialist, Romero likely will have to face only one or

two batters 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 that the Cardinals will spread out Romero’s

appearances in an effort to keep him healthy throughout the season.

There is reason to watch his workload closely.

Romero had surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his left arm

following the 2009 season. He pitched in 60 games for the Phillies

in 2010, with a 3.68 ERA, surpassing 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.”