He entered Spring Training last year knowing he would start the season serving a 50-game suspension for violating the league's policy against performance-enhancing substances. He pitched for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, despite feeling discomfort in his left shoulder before he left. He pitched anyway, rejoined the Phillies on June 3 and made 20 relief appearances before he landed on the disabled list in July with elbow tendinitis.
Romero rehabbed and pitched against Houston on Sept. 28, but the elbow issue remained. Surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon followed Oct. 7 and he missed the entire postseason.
Phillies pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout Thursday, and Romero said he has a shot to be ready Opening Day.
"Hell, yeah," he said following a workout Tuesday at Bright House Field.
Romero said orthopedist David Altchek, who performed his surgery in New York, will be "100 percent ready to go by the second week of March." That would leave Romero just a handful of opportunities to pitch before the season begins April 5 in Washington, but he thinks seven to 12 innings in the Grapefruit League would be more than enough to be ready.
"I've been recovering very well and long-tossing and stuff like that," Romero said. "I think I might be farther than what [team physician Michael] Ciccotti was expecting."
If Romero's spring plays out like he believes it will, it will be good news for the Phillies. Romero is the only veteran left-hander in the bullpen following Scott Eyre's retirement. If Romero is unable to pitch, the Phils likely will turn to Antonio Bastardo, Sergio Escalona and Mike Zagurski. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. likes to say it doesn't matter if a pitcher is right-handed or left-handed if he can get hitters out, but the Phillies certainly would like to have at least one lefty in the 'pen.
Romero understands the club needs him.
"That's good. It's more innings for me," he said. "If I'm the only lefty in the bullpen, than I've just got to strap it on and get the job done -- period. I've been the only lefty in other bullpens before. I'm all for the challenge. I hope that one of these young kids realize that we need another lefty at times and they can step up and earn that spot. I would like to see one of the young guys with a good arm make the roster as well. If that's not the case, I'll be ready to go."
|"I'm going to be smart, because this is a marathon. This isn't a sprint. I don't want to do something to jeopardize the rest of my career and the rest of the season."|
|-- J.C. Romero|
That would seem to put a little more pressure on Romero to be ready.
"I know where I'm at, and I know what I have to do to prepare myself," Romero said. "I'm not trying to be a hero. If I have to stay here a week after camp, so be it. I'm willing to do that, but in my mind, my goal is to break camp with the team."
At least the possibility to open the season exists. Romero knew he had no chance last year because of the suspension.
"That is a chapter of my life that is over, and the injury and all that is long gone now," he said. "Somebody else has a trophy that I want. We have to go get it now."
But in reality those issues aren't behind him. Romero's said lawsuits against Ergopharm and Vitamin Shoppe and GNC are ongoing. Ergopharm is the company that distributed the supplement that caused him to test positive in 2008. Vitamin Shoppe and GNC are the companies that distributed it. Romero also is not past his elbow surgery until he gets on the mound and consistently and effectively competes.
"Oh, yeah," Romero said of his lawsuits. "That isn't going away. It's still up in the air. Right now, it seems very positive. Everything is going to be all right. It's a long process. But I ain't quitting. ... I wish it never happened, but the only thing I can do is just keep going after the lawsuit, hopefully win the lawsuit and when everything is said and done, people will understand the real truth."
Romero said he has not been tested for performance-enhancing substances this offseason, although he frequently was tested last year.
"I was very surprised," he said. "I was right by my phone the whole winter, expecting they would call. I went to Puerto Rico and I think I gave them like four different phone numbers. They can come and test me right now. It's fine. It doesn't change the way I train or do things. Last season, I got tested a lot. They didn't call me, so that means everything went well."
Romero said he regrets the fact that he pitched in the Classic. He said he felt some tightness in his shoulder before he joined Puerto Rico. He said the shoulder issue might have led to his elbow issue, which is why he said he will not participate in the Classic in the future.
The suspension out of the way, the elbow pain-free, Romero hopes to stay on course. He said Altchek and Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan will speak in the next few days to determine how Romero should proceed.
"I'm going to be smart, because this is a marathon," the veteran lefty said. "This isn't a sprint. I don't want to do something to jeopardize the rest of my career and the rest of the season."
But Romero also wants to be in uniform Opening Day.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.