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On eve of return, Romero eager to pitch

On eve of return, Romero ready to go

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SAN DIEGO -- The "Free J.C." T-shirts that some of the Phillies players have been sporting the first two months of the season are now faded.

That perhaps is a sign of the times -- certainly a sign that J.C. Romero's 50-game suspension for violating baseball's policy against performances-enhancing substances is finally coming to end.

In fact, on Wednesday, the 32-year-old left-handed reliever will officially be back on the Phillies' roster, his suspension over.

"[The return] seems to be more of a big deal with the media than it is with me," said Romero on Tuesday, sitting in front of his locker in the Phils' clubhouse. "It's great to be allowed to play baseball again, but I try not to make a big deal out of it. But this is just the first day of this year's season for me.

"Yes, I'm excited and all that, but I try not to really dwell too much on it," Romero added. "I'm anxious and looking forward to the opportunity of getting in there in a key situation and I'll be ready to throw. I really want to get out there.

And manager Charlie Manuel isn't adverse to getting him out there in the seventh or eighth inning right away.

"I'm comfortable [with using him]," said Manuel. "He's in shape, he's a good pitcher."

"[Manuel] better be ready to put me out there becomes I'm ready," Romero said. "Sometimes it really kills me not being able to be out there in certain situations. I think this is the right time. Here in San Diego and then we go to L.A., which has a great team and some good left-handed hitters and then we go to New York [to face the Mets]. So it's going to be a great road trip for the team. If we can win some series at the same time, it will be good for me if I can contribute in a positive way. That will be great."

"I've been pitching in the Minor Leagues, doing what everybody else has to do to make it to the big leagues. I was going one step at a time, pitch in Class A, in Double-A and in Triple-A. I was facing good hitters there and I was just going about my business there the same way that I've been doing for eight or 10 years. It was a good experience."

Asked about the reception he might get in L.A. and New York, Romero said, "I've been the type of guy who has been through trials and tribulations before in my career, so it's something like I've got a tough skin.

"By now I know it comes with the territory and I know it could be a lot worse. When I think about stuff that has happened in baseball, from players losing their lives to other people being accused of taking actually steroids and stuff like that, things could be a lot worse.

"I'm content with myself, I can look myself in the mirror and I have a lot of peace in my heart because I know I didn't do anything wrong," said Romero. "It's up to them to really judge me or do whatever they want to do. But that's their reaction, I can't control that. All I'm going to worry about is the positive things.

Romero talked about the difference in the stress of being suspended and the stress of pitching relief in the late innings.

"Those are two different types of stuff," said Romero. "If you understand what's going on, this is a decision as an athlete you don't want to be put on. You really don't want to be involved with the whole steroid issue. You don't want to be part of that. I just hope people can understand my case in particular wasn't about me [trying to cheat].

"That's what I want people to understand, that there wasn't any intention to do any thing to cheat the game of baseball," Romero added. "It just happened that I went to my trial very confident about me just coming out on top because I knew I had nothing to hide, and apparently the arbitrator say it in a different way, and he accused me of negligence and that's what people have to understand. They didn't accuse me of taking steroids; they accused me of not doing or taking the right procedures before I took the supplement that cost me my positive test.

"It's for people to judge me and decide how they want to take this, but I know in my heart I didn't do anything to be ashamed of myself or to embarrass myself." Romero said. "I just hope that people understand and put themselves in my shoes before they start judging me."

Romero was picked up by the Phillies in June 2007 after the Red Sox designated him for assignment and he became a key late-inning pitcher out of the bullpen. In 32 games with Philadelphia, Romero is 5-6 with 46 holds and a 2.17 ERA. He's prevented 62-of-84 (73.8 percent) inherited runners from scoring.

In his Minor League stints, Romero threw 7 2/3 innings for Class A Lakewood, Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He allowed two earned runs (2.35 ERA) on five hits, struck out seven and walked two.

Sandy Burgin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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