What if Ricky Romero is the next Dontrelle Willis?

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Blue Jays want you to look at Ricky Romero and see Cliff Lee.

But what if you're seeing Dontrelle Willis instead?

The day after the Blue Jays made the stunning yet obvious decision to send their former All-Star to the minor leagues, a rival scout who has watched Romero all spring brought up Willis as the most apt comparison.

"I'm not sure we'll ever see Ricky Romero again," the scout said Wednesday morning.

Like Romero, Willis was a left-hander with a delivery that had a lot of parts, and therefore could be hard to maintain. Like Romero, Willis had big success at a young age, then struggled with command and confidence.

And like Romero, Willis was sent to the Class A Florida State League (by the Tigers in 2008), in an effort to get him fixed.

Willis was 26 years old, two years younger than Romero is now. Willis made just 38 more big-league appearances over the next three seasons, and was out of baseball for good by the time he was 30.

The Blue Jays presented Romero's demotion as simply a way to give him more time to work on mechanical adjustments he has made this spring. The company line was that they just "ran out of time" to get him where he needed to be for the regular season.

The truth is that they can't be sure he'll ever get there.

"I'd put my money on him," manager John Gibbons said Wednesday. "But there's no guarantees."

There are reasons for the Blue Jays to keep trying, beyond the fact that if they can get Romero fixed, he could help them win. They still owe him $23.1 million on a contract that runs through 2015.

There are also reasons for the Jays to believe they can fix him. At some points in his final spring training start Tuesday, Romero's fastball velocity was 90-92 mph, which is more or less what he has always thrown. For a few batters at a time, he looked a little more like the All-Star he once was than the Class A pitcher he'll soon be.

But he couldn't sustain it, and basically hasn't been able to sustain anything since the middle of June last year.

There are pitchers who have been sent back to the minor leagues and come back strong. Lee, who was sent down by the Indians in 2007 and returned to win the Cy Young Award in 2008, is the most promising example.

It can happen.

"We expect [Romero] to be as good as ever, once he figures it out," Gibbons said. "We think he will. We know his makeup."

They'll hope he's Cliff Lee. And not Dontrelle Willis.

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