Unless you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers or A’s, you’re likely a fan of Giants closer Sergio Romo.
If you’re a fan of the Giants, it’s time you reserve similar affection for his heir apparent, Heath Hembree.
There’s virtually nothing to dislike about Romo. From his rags-to-riches climb, to his approachable everyman charm, to his comically diverse sartorial choices, Romo has a vibe about him that brings a smile to anyone fortunate to be in his orbit.
He’s a damn fine pitcher, too — an absolute wonder to behold when he’s on. One pitch after his outside slider gets a hitter so far out on his front foot that the first baseman could untie that shoe, Romo will throw a mid-80s fastball that flies past the slugger as if it were going light speed.
Since taking over the ninth inning for the not-at-all-dearly-departed Brian Wilson, Romo has been a rock for the most part, amping up AT&T Park’s huge crowds by coming up huge in huge moments. He expertly allayed any fear the Giants might have had about their post-Weezy world.
Now, however, there has to be a touch of fear about their post-Romo world, because that time might be coming soon.
There are several triggers for this fairly modest alarm, but the most obvious has been there from the moment manager Bruce Bochy tabbed Romo as the closer: that slider.
As pure-evil filthy as it is, it is the pitch that could, at any time, shut Romo down in a hurry and for a long time. The coaching staff already has made concessions by monitoring his workload, and still Romo’s elbow has barked at times. Now that he’s got six years of heavy reliance on that wing-wrenching weapon, the likelihood of something going horribly wrong is greater than ever.
Thus, it behooves the Giants to ensure that Hembree, a closer cut from more traditional cloth (i.e., “Gas ’em up, Heath!”) who posted 31 saves for Triple-A Fresno last season before striking out 12 without giving up a run over 7²⁄³ innings for the Giants, be absolutely ready to step in at the drop of a ligament.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of spring training analysis pieces that will appear Sundays in The San Francisco Examiner throughout March.