Romero, 33, said that the doctor who performed flexor tendon surgery on him last October projected that he would be "100 percent ready to [pitch in spring training games] by the second week in March," which would leave him enough time to be active on opening day, or shortly thereafter.
Romero has been long-tossing since Jan. 16, and said that he felt no pain. His surgeon, David Altchek, will speak with team trainers in a few days to determine a plan for the rest of spring training, and a timetable for his return.
The procedure last autumn ended a season that began with a 50-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy. Romero tested positive for androstenedione, a banned substance that the pitcher maintains he ingested unknowingly through an over-the-counter supplement.
Last summer, Romero filed suit against GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, and the supplement's manufacturer, ErgoPharm Inc. The suit claimed that the store employees and drug manufacturer were negligent in misrepresenting the product as free of banned substances.
"It's still out there, and right now it seems very positive," Romero said yesterday of the lawsuit.
The pitcher believes that his suspension, and the resulting stop-and-start nature of his season, contributed to his injuries. He also faulted the World Baseball Classic for causing elbow issues. That controversial tournament forces pitchers into intense competition in early March, often before they are fully ready.
"I haven't said this before, but you won't see me playing in another World Baseball Classic," he said. "I'll tell you that much. I apologize to the fans or whoever expected me to play, but I'm not playing in another baseball classic. No way. You can quote me on that."
Romero blamed last year's looming suspension for an impulsive decision to compete for the Puerto Rican team. "With my suspension, I didn't want to stay [in Clearwater] all that time," he said. "I was going to be bored out of my mind. I just said let me go and let me have fun, and I did. But I kind of look back and I regret some things. But it's over and done with."
After he returned to the Phils in June, Romero initially felt shoulder pain, which turned into elbow pain. He attempted for months to rehabilitate the injury, but knew after a Sept. 28 appearance against Houston that he was not healing.
When Phils team physician Michael Ciccotti "said I had a small tear and everything was going to be fine, I just rehabbed," Romero said. "When I rehabbed it got better, but when I pitched it reaggravated. It got to the point where I said, 'You know what, I need a second opinion.' "
Romero visited Altchek, the Mets' team doctor. "He saw the tear," Romero said. "It was actually bigger than what Dr. Ciccotti saw at the beginning."
So the pitcher elected to have surgery, and began a difficult winter, uncertain if he would completely heal. He altered his workout routine to reduce weightlifting and incorporate more stretching and yoga. He hoped that the surgery would reset his career and return him to competition, but feared that it would not.
"I questioned God, man," he recalled. "I said, 'Tell me it is going to be fine.'"
So far, Romero has been pleased to feel pain-free when playing catch, and he is ready to assume greater responsibility in the Phils' bullpen. Scott Eyre's retirement left Romero as the team's primary lefthander. Prospects Antonio Bastardo, Sergio Escalona, and Mike Zagurski could make the team, but Romero could also be the only lefty.
"It's good, more innings for me," he said, laughing. "I hope that one of these young kids realizes that we need another lefty at times, and they can just step up and earn that spot. I would like to see one of those young guys with a good arm making the roster as well. But if that's not the case, I'll be ready to go."
Contact staff writer Andy Martino at 215-854-4874 or email@example.com.