Jays notes: Jordan Romano's post-surgery return in doubt, Vlad Guerrero Jr. an All-Star again

TORONTO — The remainder of Jordan Romano’s season is in doubt after the Toronto Blue Jays closer on Wednesday underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow to fix an impingement after a consultation with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Keith Meister.

The Blue Jays announced the news before their 9-2 loss to the Houston Astros at the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays closer will now be shut down from throwing for at least six weeks. When asked if Romano would be finished for the season, manager John Schneider said, “Don’t know.”

Romano won’t be able to pick up a ball and play catch until mid-August, at the earliest. He would then need to be properly built up. If the Blue Jays don’t find a way to become competitive and are merely playing out the string of the season by that point, it may not make sense to rush the closer back.

Romano has twice been on the IL this season with elbow inflammation. The issue first cropped up during spring training and carried over into the start of the season. Romano returned in mid-April but didn’t look like his normal self on the mound, pitching to a 6.59 ERA in 13 2/3 innings (15 appearances) with eight saves and one blown save.

He was back on the IL by the end of May and experienced multiple setbacks in his attempt to return, leading the Blue Jays to send him to see Dr. Meister, who recently performed elbow surgery on Alek Manoah. The Blue Jays’ imaging of Romano’s elbow revealed no structural damage, so there was optimism leading into his appointment, but ultimately the 31-year-old reliever still needed surgery on his throwing elbow.

The long-term injury to Romano is another dent to a Blue Jays bullpen ravaged by injuries and surprising underperformances this season. None of the four relievers who led the club in appearances in 2023 — Romano, Yimi García, Erik Swanson and Tim Mayza — are on the active roster, and the remaining relievers have been mostly inconsistent save for Chad Green and Trevor Richards. But a bullpen can’t survive with only two consistent relievers and the cracks in their bullpen showed again in Wednesday’s loss.

Tied 2-2 in the seventh inning, Zach Pop and José Cuas combined to allow four runs. Cuas, picked up off waivers from the Chicago Cubs last week, threw three pitches that resulted in a single, a hit by pitch and another hit by pitch before he was removed. In all, the Blue Jays bullpen allowed seven runs, turning a close game into a blowout.

There is at least some positive news for the bullpen. García, on the IL with right elbow ulnar neuritis, was scheduled to throw a bullpen on Wednesday. If all checks out afterward, the hope is that his next step will be a rehab outing and from there, he could progress quickly to his return.

If the Blue Jays do become sellers at the deadline, García, having a career year with a 2.57 ERA in 28 innings before his IL stint, could be a prime trade candidate, since he’ll be a free agent after the season. But opposing clubs would want to see the 33-year-old right-hander return to the mound and look like himself before considering dealing for him.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leads the Blue Jays with 13 homers. (Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was named a starter for the All-Star Game on Wednesday, giving him his fourth appearance at the Midsummer Classic in four years.

Guerrero said he was “very happy” to be selected again, and is especially pleased because he’s almost halfway to the nine All-Star selections his dad, Vladimir Guerrero Sr., totaled.

“I’m getting close to him, so that’s my goal,” Guerrero Jr. said through team interpreter Hector Lebron.

After a slowish start to the season, Guerrero has been among the league’s best hitters since the end of April. In 85 games this season, Guerrero is batting .297/.375/.470 with 13 home runs. Guerrero will be the fourth Blue Jays player to start three or more All-Star Games, joining José Bautista (4), Roberto Alomar (4) and Joe Carter (3), per MLB.com’s Sarah Langs.

Guerrero, however, will not defend his Home Run Derby title. The first baseman said he was asked to return, but decided against it, citing his focus on the season.

Guerrero has attended five All-Star events, including in 2019 when a rookie Guerrero wasn’t selected for the team, but competed in the Derby and finished as the runner-up. Asked about his favourite All-Star moment so far, Guerrero said it was being named the game’s MVP in 2021.

Lately, Guerrero has resembled the player he was during that special 2021 season when the first baseman led the majors with 48 home runs and finished as the runner-up for the American League MVP. Schneider said Guerrero’s swing mechanics are close to where they were three seasons ago. He’s been able to hit to all fields and get to pitches that aren’t in the middle of the zone, “which is hard to do,” Schneider said.

“I think the biggest thing is he’s taking his walks like he did in 2021,” Schneider added. “There’s a lot of good going on right now.”

The Blue Jays moved George Springer back to the leadoff spot in their lineup on Wednesday, the first time he has hit in the familiar spot since May 17.

The move up was prompted by Springer’s hot bat. Heading into Wednesday, the right fielder had gone 12-for-24 (.500) with two doubles, four homers, 13 RBIs and a 1.639 OPS in his last seven games.

“He’s been swinging the bat extremely well,” Schneider said. “He’ll be there, not planning on moving him. Hopefully, he can keep it rolling.”

Schneider has expressed the goal of having the top of Toronto’s order return to Springer, Bo Bichette, Guerrero and Justin Turner, who was placed on the paternity list on Wednesday. During the offensive struggles, the Blue Jays manager has reimagined the lineup many times, but he has previously spoken about how, in an ideal world, he would close his eyes and fill out the first four in his batting order.

Of those four, only Bichette continues to slump, though he hit a double in Wednesday’s loss and Schneider has been persistent that he believes the shortstop will turn things around soon. Whether it’s soon enough, though, is another matter. For now, Spencer Horwitz, who has hit .288/.420/.470 in 22 games since he came up on June 7, has occupied the No. 2 spot.

“They’re our best hitters. We need them to just be themselves,” Schneider said. “I think we’re close with probably three of them. Hopefully, you can just pencil that in every night and say, ‘Away you go.’ But not ignoring what Spence is doing. I think having him up there, too, is pretty beneficial right now.”

(Photo of Romano: Brian Bradshaw Sevald / USA Today)

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