SAN DIEGO - The questions and discussions surrounding J.C. Romero this season have been mostly legal and ethical: Who is responsible for his 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs? Should he have been more diligent in researching the contents of his tainted supplement? Was Major League Baseball clear enough about its rules and procedures?
But with Romero's ban ending today, a different issue becomes important to the Phillies: How will his return affect the bullpen?
Asked how much Romero's absence hurt the team, pitching coach Rich Dubee said: "I can't look at it that way. Because we didn't have him, we just had to deal with it. Will we be better now? Sure."
Last week, manager Charlie Manuel was more specific about the shape of his bullpen after Romero's return. "Chan Ho Park, [Chad] Durbin, and [Clay] Condrey . . . can become two-inning pitchers for us," Manuel said Saturday. "Then we have [Brad] Lidge, [Ryan] Madson, Romero, and Scott Eyre."
(Lefties Jack Taschner and Sergio Escalona were absent from that list. Either was a candidate for demotion to triple A.)
Park, Durbin, and Condrey can pitch multiple innings and, if needed, fill in during the eighth and ninth.
With Madson and Lidge owning the eighth and ninth innings, respectively (and Eyre acting as a late-inning lefthanded specialist), Romero could slot comfortably into the seventh inning. The lefthander enjoyed an excellent season in 2008, with a 2.75 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 59 innings. Though he was more effective against lefthanded batters (lefty opponents had a .102 batting average in 98 at-bats, vs. a .282 average in 110 at-bats by righties), he showed an ability to face all hitters.
So is the Phillies' bullpen ready to resume the dominance it displayed last season, when it led the National League with a 3.22 ERA? Maybe, but relief pitching is famously inconsistent from one year to the next. Without Romero, Phils relievers are sixth in the NL, with a 3.62 ERA.
Romero, 32, has experienced highs and lows. In 81 games for Minnesota in 2002, he was 9-2 with a 1.89 ERA. In 2006, he posted a 6.70 ERA with the Los Angeles Angels. The following season, he was released by Boston.
Factor in the drug suspension, and his performance becomes even more difficult to predict. Romero admittedly pitched for a time last season while taking performance-enhancing drugs.
He was suspended after testing positive for androstenedione, and has asserted that he unknowingly took the drug by ingesting 6-OXO Extreme, a supplement.
He has filed lawsuits against the manufacturer and the stores that sold it.
Questions of culpability likely will be determined by the courts.
Questions of performance will be settled on the field.