JoJo Romero had little warning that there was an issue with his left arm. For a while, it just felt like he couldn’t get completely loose and thought it was just some early season tightness. When the feeling persisted and he was getting hit around by major league hitters, the Phillies grew wary and had him checked out by a doctor while the team went on the road, leaving Romero behind in Philly.

“I never really felt anything. Some guys throw a pitch and grab their arm immediately but that never happened for me,” remembered Romero of how the injury came about to be diagnosed. “I went through all of the tests and when I got the news, it just caught me off guard and it was surprising.

“I got a call and they went over everything with me and they told me that it might be leaning towards that (Tommy John surgery) and my heart dropped.”

While Romero’s time in the majors has been short and he has not produced a lot of success, he has become a fan favorite for his quirkiness. His trademark move is to chug a can of Red Bull and then smash the can on his head when he gets the call to come in from the bullpen. The routine started when he did it once prior to entering a game and pitched well in the outing. When he saw his bullpen mates later, they all told him that it had to become a routine.

Romero had the surgery in late May of 2021 and was not allowed to throw a ball until early October. He also had been kept from doing any upper body workouts in the gym but being the workout fan that he is, he was doing work on leg machines shortly after the surgery to bide his time. Eventually, he was able to do some limited upper body work and things progressed to where he was able to start simulated throwing with a towel to provide some resistance. Finally, he was able to throw in the batting cage but had to hold himself back from going full strength right away.

“The first day throwing we were in the cage and it just that first time through, it was like ‘dang, I missed this.’,” said Romero. “I had to cut back on just letting the ball rip and just stick to the process. It just felt so good to throw again that I had to hold myself back and focus on the process. From there, everything went along as scheduled and my arm feels great.”

In his return to the mound, Romero made a start in the Florida Complex League and then two starts with Clearwater prior to being officially assigned to bullpen duty. After two relief appearances with the Threshers, Romero was moved to Double-A Reading and then to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and the strategy changed. Now, rather than having assigned times to pitch, Romero is being handled like almost reliever out of the pen. Romero simply has to stay ready. On Monday, IronPigs manager Anthony Contreras went to Romero mid-inning with one out and nobody on base.

“I’m just hanging out there and the phone rang and I was going in. They said that Marvel (reliever James Marvel) had one more batter and to be ready,” Romero said prior to Wednesday’s game at Lehigh Valley. “I think that’s kind of the plan to put me in different positions. In Reading, I had a two-inning save and pitched the eighth and the ninth and my last game there, I was in the ninth. I think it’s just trying to put me in different situations.”

In eight rehab games, Romero has posted a 2.08 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings of work. His velocity is back to normal with his fastball hitting the mid-90s. He has not had to make any changes to his mechanics or adjustments to his pitches because of the injury, but he did spend a lot of time analyzing what he had done previously and has developed a better understanding for what goes into pitching.

There is no definite timetable for Romero to be back in Philadelphia, but the clock is ticking on his rehab assignment, which started June 17. Pitchers have 30 days on a rehab assignment before they must be activated or the assignment comes to an end if the pitcher needs more time on the IL. Romero also has two options remaining, meaning that the Phillies could activate him and option him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.