CLEARWATER, Fla. - The National League's best bullpen from 2008 will have to deal with a big challenge for the first two months of the new season.
J.C. Romero, who helped the Phillies record a league-best 3.22 bullpen ERA last season, must serve a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance last summer.
The lefthander maintains his innocence because no banned substances were listed on the ingredient label of 6-OXO Extreme, an over-the-counter supplement he bought in South Jersey. Major League Baseball sources have said that Romero tested positive for androstenedione.
Romero lost an appeal of the suspension.
"I'm going to continue to be mad," he said. "If I was juicing, I'd be the first person to say, 'You know what? I screwed up.' But I wasn't."
Romero, 32, joined the Phils in June 2007 and has since been a mainstay in the bullpen, recording a 2.17 ERA in 132 games. He appeared in 81 games last season and had a 2.75 ERA.
In response to the loss of Romero, the Phils acquired lefty reliever Jack Taschner from San Francisco. He will join Scott Eyre and possibly J.A. Happ as lefthanders in the Phils' bullpen.
"That's a tough one for us because, in my opinion, J.C. is the best lefthanded setup man in the game," closer Brad Lidge said of Romero's suspension. "But with Scott and the guys we have, I think we can get through it until J.C. gets back."
Barring postponements, Romero will be eligible to return June 1. In the meantime, he is allowed to pitch in exhibition games Friday and Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. He is also allowed to participate in pregame workouts with the team, though he must be out of uniform by game time.
It is likely that Romero will keep sharp by pitching in extended spring training games involving minor-leaguers in April and May. He is allowed to pitch in official minor-league games two weeks before his suspension ends.