MLB.com Columnist

Jesse Sanchez

En route to LA, Romo gets groove back

Strong stint in Mexico leads to reliever heading to Dodgers

En route to LA, Romo gets groove back

CULIACAN, Mexico -- Sergio Romo found his mojo in Mexico, and he'll leave the country with a big league opportunity.

Romo, 33, is expected to finalize a one-year deal with the Dodgers this week. He also hopes to return to the U.S. with a Caribbean Series title.

"Being in the Mexican uniform, it's been quite the experience," Romo said. "I was able to be around family that had I not seen in a while -- and play in front of family that had not seen me play in the States. For me and for my Dad, especially, it's been an unreal ride so far."

Romo's Aguilas de Mexicali earned a spot in the tournament's semifinals Monday by winning its first three games of the tournament. Mexico entered play Sunday on a nine-game winning streak in the Caribbean Series dating back to 2015, and winners of the tournament four times in the past six years.

"Being out here in Mexico has been an eye-opener," he said. "It's been one of those experiences that I have not really had in a while. The passion, the adrenaline and the excitement and everything that has to do with playing with Mexican baseball."

Romo, who was born in Brawley, Calif., to Mexican parents, sported an ERA of 0.93 with three saves in nine appearances during the regular season for the Charros de Jalisco in the Mexican Winter League. He allowed seven hits and struck out 10 without walking a batter. He later joined the Caneros de Los Mochis as a reinforcement during the playoffs and was picked up by Mexicali for the Caribbean Series.

The right-handed reliever allowed three hits, including a home run, in one inning against Puerto Rico in his only appearance during the tournament. The Rays, who have a scout at the Caribbean Series, and the Yankees also made a strong push to sign the veteran.

"For me, not having a team, I just try to focus on myself and get better in certain areas," Romo said. "That's the reason why I came out to play [in Mexico] was to show that I'm healthy and I'm OK and I got past certain injuries. And also, that I can get better still. There are ways we can always improve, no matter what level -- so here I have picked up a couple of things and some tricks that I honestly feel can keep me around a little longer."

Romo was the Giants' primary closer in 2013 and '14, and recorded a combined 61 saves during that span. The three-time World Series champion excelled in a setup role in '15 and '16, compiling a 2.64 ERA last season. However, he was limited to 40 appearances because of a forearm flexor strain.

He appears in line to replace setup man Joe Blanton, who also is a free agent.

"This is my second go-around at being a free agent -- and the first time was an eye-opener, because I really didn't know what to expect," Romo said. "I heard some things from other players and other guys and friends that I have made along the way. They gave me their advice and their two cents on certain ideas and their perceptions on things. It helped me out before and kept me a little bit calm."

Romo won't be gone from Mexico for long. He's expected to return to pitch for the country's team in the World Baseball Classic next month in Guadalajara, Mexico. Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Italy will also play in Pool D with Mexico at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco.

"To put the uniform on again, it means a lot to me because I get to represent my dad and I get to represent my mom. I get to represent my grandparents and my aunts and uncles, who [were] all born in Mexico," he said. "I [have] a lot of pride in who I am and I'm proud of the person I've become -- and I'm very thankful that I had great examples ahead of me and they all started with Mexican origin."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.