Our Chat with J.C. Romero as He Drove to Clearwater: On Control, Cliff Lee's Advice, and Being Hungry for More Than Pancakes

Our Chat with J.C. Romero as He Drove to Clearwater: On Control, Cliff Lee's Advice, and Being Hungry for More Than Pancakes

As it turns out for one member of the Phillies, the road to Clearwater started out with pancakes.

Phillies reliever J.C. Romero spent Friday driving from his home in Alabama to the team's spring training facilities in Clearwater, Florida, but he hit the road a bit later than he had initially planned because he had to make his daughter Jazlyn some pancakes before he left.

Romero wasn't always sure it would be Clearwater that he would report to this spring as a return to the Phillies didn't look promising once the team declined his $4.5 million option for 2011. But much like Cliff Lee, Romero told us he likely left some money on the table, settling on a 1-year, $1.35 million deal to return to Philadelphia, a place his family has grown to love.

We talked with Romero on Friday as he set off on the road. We touched on his decision to return to the Phillies, how healthy he feels heading into the 2011 campaign, his thoughts on the Four Aces and how it will affect the bullpen, his plan to talk look to Cliff Lee for advice, his thoughts on Antonio Bastardo stepping up in Chad Durbin's absence, and what he's planning on working on over the next month and a half in Clearwater.

And don't worry, J.C.'s cousin was driving as we chatted. Didn't want to upset Oprah.

We also asked him what restaurant he planned on stopping at during his eight hour road trip. His answer was not one I was expecting.

Our interview with J.C. Romero below.

Would you say you're 100% healthy right now?

"Yeah. Right now I'm a 100% and I'll tell you something. A real man will accept his flaws and his mistakes. From a personal standpoint, I think I kind of underestimated the operation. I didn't think my surgery was going to be as serious as it was. Honestly, I think I came up too quick. Maybe my competitiveness took over. You know, I've always been a positive individual. If I had to do it all over again, I would have really taken my time rehabbing. I think if I would have rehabbed the way I should have, last season would have been a lot better."

How much of your control issues last season can be attributed to the injury specifically?

"A lot. I've always been effectively wild over my career. We were talking about a 2 to 1 ratio throughout my career. It's hard to come back, especially when you're a sinker ball pitcher and command the strike zone when you pretty much don't have 100% feeling in your fingers. You need your fingers to be on top of the baseball. You need your hands to be where you want it to be. It wasn't that I wasn't healed, it was that I was a little weak. I really couldn't be constant with my arm slot or my arm speed. That was the reason I was so erratic at times. It was a learning process. I hope that everything goes better this year. One of the things I've never done, but I think I'm going to be able to do is to start picking the starting pitchers brains a little bit. I want to sit down a little bit with Cliff Lee because he's a guy that really pounds the strike zone and he really emphasizes getting ahead and putting people away. It's never too late to learn. I want to see the things he does on a daily basis to get his command where it needs to be. I'll be alright. I feel healthy. If I'm healthy I'll be alright.

You mentioned Cliff Lee. A lot of the spotlight this offseason has been on the four aces. How does the bullpen feel about being out of the limelight a bit? Or maybe not having as much pressure on them?

"We're good. We know that the bottom line is if you have a good bullpen you will win championships. Yes, you need hitting. You need defense. You need good starting pitching. You need all around ball. It will take for everybody to do their part to win a championship. We know that. It happened to us before. You take the blessings as they come and we hope the starting rotation can stay healthy and pitch a lot of innings. That's what you want from them. But at the end of the day, we know as a bullpen we have to stay strong, to stay sharp. There's no room for mistakes. We will probably have less innings, but I think as far as appearances and quality outings and key outs, they're always going to be there. You always have to be prepared mentally and physically to execute at any given time. I think our mentality hasn't changed. It's just a matter of being a little more patient because we have some guys who can pitch deeper into games.

Do you still get excited for Spring Training or is it more of a grind you have to go through before the real thing in April?

"I do. I get excited. The day that I stop being excited about showing up to Spring Training it the day I walk away from the game. You have to be excited. This is a special place to be. Not everybody can play at this level. We're very blessed to do what we do for a living. But at the same time it takes some preparation and some discipline which I look forward to as well.

Is there anything specifically that you want to work on while in Florida?

"Actually, I just want to get that attacking feel back. I want to get back to attacking mode. That's what I did when I was younger. That's what I did when I was healthy.  Me being healthy will make that a lot easier. I want to pound the strike zone with my sinker and try to limit my walks. That's my main concern. I've been doing targeting pitching here in my house trying to make sure my command is where it needs to be. You know, I've done it before. It's about me going out there, doing the repetitions, and training the right way. All I need to do is compete, start having a little success early in the season, and it will all take off from there.

One of the younger guys that the team may rely a lot on this season is Antonio Bastardo. Especially with Chad Durbin likely being gone, do you see Bastardo stepping up his role a lot this season?

"He better. That is a kid that reminds me a lot of myself when I was a young puppy when I played in Minnesota. I have been with Bastardo every step of the way, from the day that I got hurt I was in Clearwater and I took him under my wing trying to teach him how things are in the big leagues. The kid has amazing stuff. The important thing for him is to stay consistent. Knowing that the season isn't two or three weeks. You have to play six and a half, seven months out of the year. I think he's up for the challenge because his stuff is there and mentally he's getting stronger. Plus he had a good taste of the big leagues last season. I think he's going to be alright.

"Durbin is going to be missed. Because his personality, the way he was and what he brought to the team, that calmness in the bullpen, if we were all hyped up he was very calm and very mellow. We called him 'The Doctor' because he was calm and very collected. We're going to miss him tremendously. We wish him well, but at the same time there's a job there for somebody to take. I think Bastardo is going to be ready for it. If he's not ready, somebody else will, so he better be ready.

Some word association.

Brad Lidge

"Notre Dame boy"

Ryan Madson

"Oh man. Funny guy"

Jose Contreras

"I call him 'Big Truck.' He's a beast."

Rich Dubee

"I call him 'The Coach.' He's the coach."

Charlie Manuel

"Charlie Manuel. Oh my god. That's the ace. That's the real ace of the team, man. That's the real ace."

Making rookies carry that pink backpack to the bullpen. What's inside the backpack?

"All the goodies. Me personally, I don't participate too much in that because when I was a rookie I didn't really carry one. I used to carry a couple of bottles of water or whatever in my hands. But you get water, Gatorade, Powerbars, Red Bull, Aspirin. Whatever you need in the bullpen you carry in that pink bag. If you notice throughout the season, somebody always carries the pink bag, but somebody also carries a regular bag. So if you're not a rookie, you could still be carrying a regular bag. It depends on seniority. The youngest member of the bullpen will always be carrying a bag even if you're not a rookie."

Toughest hitter ever faced?

"I'd have to say, thank God he retired, but John Olerud always gave me a hard time. Seems like he always gave me two strikes, then he got me after an 0-2 or 1-2 count."

You're actually driving down now, which Phillie in the clubhouse are you most excited to see?

"One of the things that makes this team so unique is that you want to see everybody, man. Everybody is so unique. They have something different to bring. What I really want to see is, to see if we're still hungry. You know what I mean? We have the pieces. I want to see how the guys react as a whole unit because I want to make sure they're still hungry. I'm here to win a championship, and I hope they have that goal in mind as well.

You going to stop for some food somewhere at some point?

"My wife is really into healthy stuff. I'm not glad that I went through the whole suspension and all that stuff, but it kind of opened our minds. So we've been very health conscious, even with a lot of stuff we eat. She made me a big goody bag with some turkey, some pastrami, and all the good organic stuff. I got food here for eight hours, so we're good."

Instant Replay: Central Florida 71, Temple 69

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Instant Replay: Central Florida 71, Temple 69

BOX SCORE

Temple and UCF went for punch-for-punch in the final two minutes, and the Owls missed their final swing in a 71-69 loss Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.

Down by one with 20 seconds left, Temple fouled Tacko Fall to attempt a one-and-one. The 7-6 center, who is a 47 percent free throw shooter, missed a and Temple gained possession. 

Temple had a chance to gain the lead on the ensuing possession out of the timeout, but Mark Williams missed a wide-open three-pointer from the wing. 

The loss is Temple's fourth in five games and forces them to 14-15 on the year and 5-11 against AAC opponents. Meanwhile, UCF won for the third straight time to improve to 18-10 (9-7 AAC).

Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has only finished with a record under .500 twice since becoming the Owls’ head coach in 2006.

Ding ding
Midway through the second half, Matt Williams threw an elbow at Shizz Alston Jr. that left the Temple freshman on the floor and a bloody lip. Alston followed by getting in Williams' face as the refs separated the two from each other. 

The refs ruled the elbow by Williams a basketball play and no foul was called.

Williams and Alston were involved in another scuffle at the scorer’s table after Alston got a steal. Williams shoved Alston and was called for his first personal foul as the two again had to be separated. 

Inside the box score
• Fall finished the game with 14 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and two assists in the contest.

• After finishing the first half 0 for 3 from the field, Obi Enechionyia caught fire for the Owls by shooting 5 of 6 from downtown in the second half. The junior led the Owls in scoring with 17 points. He also had five rebounds, two assists and a steal.

• Temple shot 47.6 from beyond the arc. The Owls are 6-3 this season when they shoot ball 40 percent or better from three-point land.

• B.J. Taylor finished the game with 19 points, three rebounds and three assists. It's the 10th consecutive game he scored in double figures this season. 

• Mark Williams scored 11 points on 5 of 11 shooting off the bench.

Temple's starting lineup
For the fourth straight game, Dunphy went with the same starting lineup featuring Damion Moore instead of Ernest Aflakpui and Quinton Rose instead of Alani Moore II.

The Owls are 1-3 with this lineup so far. 

After scoring a career-high 11 points on 5 of 5 shooting against UConn on Sunday, Moore finished with two points against UCF. 

First half
Temple had a hard time avoiding the 7-6 big man, Fall, in the first half. Fall had six points, three rebounds and four blocks. But he also picked up two quick fouls, forcing him to the bench at the 4:23 mark.

While Fall watched from the bench, Temple's offense found some rhythm. 

Temple went on a 15-3 run toward the end of the first half as UCF hit only two field goals in the final eight minutes of the frame.

Rose led the Owls with eight points in the first half, while Alston Jr. and Mark Williams each had seven points.

The Owls finished the first half shooting the ball 46.9 percent from the field. That tripled their amount of points in the first half the last time they faced UCF. They finished with only 11 points in the first half in their first meeting Dec. 31.

What's next
Temple will play its final home game of the season against Tulane on Saturday at noon.

UCF will face Cincinnati at the CFE Center Sunday at 3 p.m.

Report: Bulls continuing trade push for Jahlil Okafor

Report: Bulls continuing trade push for Jahlil Okafor

The Bulls are apparently still after Jahlil Okafor.

Chicago has continued its trade push for the Sixers’ big man, according to a report Wednesday night by The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

In early February, the Bulls inquired about Okafor, according to a report by CSNChicago.com.

With Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline nearing, the clock is ticking on the Sixers’ possible trade of Okafor, who will get moved” by the mandatory cutoff date, according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge on Tuesday.

The Sixers already have one trade nearly completed. They are currently finalizing a deal that will send Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks, a league source confirmed to CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato on Wednesday night (see story).

With Okafor, aside from the Bulls, other teams have reportedly expressed interest in the second-year center, including the Pacers, Blazers and Pelicans (who are expected to be out of the running after landing DeMarcus Cousins).

Okafor is averaging 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per game this season over 38 contests. Last season, he played 53 games (48 starts) as a rookie and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds.

The 21-year-old has taken all the trade buzz in stride.

“Trade rumors are something that’s going to be part of my life probably for as long as I’m in the NBA," Okafor said on Feb. 4 after the Bulls’ reported interest originally surfaced. "I’ve been hearing it since I’ve been in the NBA about me being traded. I just try to focus on what I can. That’s being here on this team and trying to help this team win.”