NEW YORK - It was not exactly an ultimatum from the manager, but when Charlie Manuel was asked about J.C. Romero's control problems this season, he took it a telling step further.
"I can't explain it," Manuel said. "It's been probably for two or three years. He can get two strikes on a hitter and end up walking him."
In the visitor's clubhouse at Citi Field, Romero shook off his miserable three-walk outing from Wednesday's 19-inning game as nothing.
"Control problems? That was one time," the lefthander said. "One time I had a bad day at the office. I was a little hyper or something like that. There's nothing to it. Before that, everything was fine."
Except that in the last three seasons, Romero has the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio (0.94) among all major-league relievers who have faced at least 280 batters. There are 200 relievers who have thrown strikes more efficiently than Romero has.
And the Phillies' patience could be wearing thin.
"Right now, he's really having command problems," Manuel said. "He has to start throwing more strikes and getting people out."
Without improvement, Romero will have a tenuous spot on the team. Brad Lidge is scheduled to throw in his first extended-spring-training game on Saturday. He still needs a few more weeks to fully recover from a partially torn rotator cuff, but a decision will have to be made when he returns.
Even before then, the Phillies will face a roster move Friday when Shane Victorino likely is activated from the disabled list. Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee said that going to an 11-man pitching staff is not an option.
Regardless, Romero, who signed a one-year, $1.35 million deal in the winter, probably has been relegated to the lowest spot on Manuel's list of trusted bullpen arms. He has walked eight and struck out seven. Of the 56 batters he has faced, 22 have reached base. That is a .393 opponent on-base percentage, which would be tops among the Phillies' regular hitters by 30 points.
Even against lefthanders, Romero has been ineffective. Lefties are 5 for 17 (.294) with three walks and five strikeouts. Part of the issue could be that Romero has faced righthanders 62.5 percent of the time, suggesting extreme misuse. Dubee said that doesn't matter.
"He hasn't gotten too many people out," Dubee said. "We need him to get better."
If the Phillies do need to remove a position player for Victorino's return, it likely will not be Domonic Brown, barring a drastic shift in the team's thinking.
"We brought Domonic up here and he's going to get a chance to play," Manuel said. "We're going to get a look at him. Yeah, he has to hold his own and stuff like that, but I would never, ever send him a message that we're going to send him down, or that we're thinking about sending him down. Because I'm not thinking that way at all."
Brown sat on the bench again Friday with a lefthander on the mound despite an impressive 2-for-4 performance Thursday.
The probable candidates for demotion are Rule 5 pick Michael Martinez and outfielder John Mayberry Jr., who has an option remaining.
Victorino will begin his rehabilitation assignment Saturday at single-A Lakewood. He will play two games there and three at double-A Reading during the week. . . . Dubee said he plans to give Danys Baez at least three days off after his 73-pitch outing Wednesday. Baez said that his arm feels good and that he has played catch in each of the last two days.