Ricky Romero says his elbow feels “100 times better”

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After finishing sixth in the AL with a 2.92 ERA in 2011, Ricky Romero endured a nightmare campaign last year in which he struggled to the tune of a 5.77 ERA and 124/105 K/BB ratio over 181 innings. While the drop-off was alarming, it was somewhat explained when the southpaw had an elbow cleanup in October and received platelet-rich plasma injections in both of his knees. Now he’s hoping for a big bounce back year.

According to Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com, Romero threw off a mound several times before reporting to Jays’ camp and can already feel the difference with his elbow.

“It feels 100 times better,” said Romero, who avoided the DL in 2012. “I wasn’t able to rotate [the elbow] at one point, I was so sore at the end of the year. That’s when I decided we should get it checked out. Right now, it feels great, pretty much back to how it should feel.

“The knees have been a work in progress. I think that’s been the toughest part, that tendinitis doesn’t go away easily. We’ve been hitting it hard every day, I’m here getting treatment, doing the small things, foam-rolling, stuff like that, just to kind of get them ready every day.”

Encouraging news for a team who clearly sees an opening in the AL East. The Blue Jays strengthened their rotation over the winter by adding R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, but getting a healthy and effective Romero back would be the equivalent of another significant offseason addition.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).