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Nationals' prospect Joe Ross opened eyes in his time in the Nats' rotation

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Joe Ross was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Stephen Strasburg's return to the Washington Nationals' rotation, but in his brief time in the majors, the 22-year-old right-hander made a strong impression on manager Matt Williams.

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Before the rain came to the nation's capital on Tuesday night, Joe Ross was out in the right field corner in Nationals Park, stretching out and getting some throwing in four days after his third major league start. Washington's 22-year-old right-hander then moved to the bullpen where he got a quick throwing session in under the watchful eye of Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty.

"[Ross has] opened eyes. Seriously opened eyes. So, those are decisions that have to be made if Stephen is back and ready to go. We'll have to make those tough decisions." -Matt Williams on impression Joe Ross made

A few hours later, Ross was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse to make room on the roster for the return of '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg.

Earlier this week, with Strasburg set to return from the DL, Nationals' manager Matt Williams talked about the impression Ross made in his short time in the Nats' rotation.

"[Ross has] opened eyes," Williams said. "Seriously opened eyes. So, those are decisions that have to be made if Stephen is back and ready to go. We'll have to make those tough decisions.

"I don't look at it any other way than a luxury for our team, because he has pitched really well and that's another guy that can pitch really well for us. Unfortunately, we're not going to go to a six-man rotation. That's not going to happen. So, those decisions will have to be made at some point, assuming Stephen is healthy and ready to go, we'll have to make it."

When Strasburg was reinstated from the DL after three weeks of flat ground sessions, bullpen sessions and one rehab start at Double-A Harrisburg, Williams informed Ross that he would be optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.

In nine starts with the Nationals' Eastern League affiliate before he was called up, Ross was (2-2) with a 2.81 ERA, a 2.83 FIP, 12 walks (2.10 BB/9) and 54 Ks (9.47 K/9) in 51 ⅓ IP.

"Tt's not fair to Joe to say, "Okay, now you're a reliever and we're going to call down and you need to get ready in ten pitches..." -Matt Williams on if they considered Joe Ross for the bullpen

In three starts for the Nats, Ross went (2-1) with a 2.66 ERA, 1.14 FIP, two walks (0.89 BB/9) and 23 Ks (10.18 K/9) in 20 ⅓ IP.

So what was Williams' message for Ross when he broke the news?

"Just to continue to do what he's doing," he told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

"He came from Double-A and came up to the big leagues and pitched well, he's now going to go to Triple-A and experience that part of his progression against some veteran guys that have been around and understand their swings and continue to stay ready.

"I told him to be ready, we never know in this game what may happen, so we have to make sure that he continues to progress and do what he needs to do in case he gets that call again. But it's never easy for a player to be told, especially after having success like that, that they're not going to be here, but he understands where we're at and he'll be ready if he's called upon again."

Williams was asked what impressed him about Ross during the right-hander's time in the Nationals' rotation?

"Everything," he said.

"I think he came up here with expectation to do well in his own brain and he did that. So the way he went about his business was like a professional.

'He made his starts and he worked hard in between them to be prepared and he pitched really well for us, so all of those things make us open our eyes and say, 'Huh, this very young gentleman has got a real bright future in this game.' He did really well."

He also explained that the Nationals never really considered keeping Ross around as part of the bullpen.

"For him, it's better for him to be a starter," Williams said.

"He hasn't relieved, so if you have Spring Training to work on it, it's one thing. But in the middle of the season it's not fair to Joe to say, 'Okay, now you're a reliever and we're going to call down and you need to get ready in ten pitches.' Just not fair. So he'll continue his progression."