Retiring the first nine batters you face is not a bad way to start your major league career. Washington Nationals' right-hander Joe Ross did just that this afternoon in the nation's capital, setting nine straight Chicago Cubs' hitters down in Nationals Park before he gave up a leadoff single by Dexter Fowler in the fourth. His fastball sat 94-96, he mixed in a slider and a changeup and, at least the first time through the Cubs' order, did a good job of keeping runners off the bases, keeping his emotions in check and handling his major league debut as if it were just another start.
Two more hits followed Fowler's with Anthony Rizzo singling to send the speedy outfielder from first-to-third and Kris Bryant bringing him in with a sharp grounder to third that bounced off of Anthony Rendon for an infield hit.
Ross limited the Cubs to just one run in the fourth, but had to throw 28 pitches to get out of the frame and he gave up two more runs in a 22-pitch fifth before he was lifted from his first MLB start having given up a total of six hits and three earned runs and thrown 91 pitches, 58 for strikes.
The first three [innings] were good," Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters after what ended up a 4-2 loss to the Cubs.
"They got to him in the fourth. It was a situation where we had to hit for him to try to get back in the game.
"He could have gone another one, but all in all I think he threw the ball well. He was unfazed by the magnitude of it, went about his business well."
Williams also said that the Cubs' lack of familiarity with the 22-year-old right-hander certainly played a role.
"Running through the lineup first," he explained, "they'd never seen him. So, that helps. Using his slider effectively. He came out throwing strikes. He did well."
"He looked great," Nationals' shortstop Ian Desmond said. "I think a lot of guys in here are excited about him. He's a stud."
Desmond added that having a brother, Tyson Ross of the San Diego Padres, who's also a major leaguer, might have made a difference in Ross remaining as calm as he did throughout the start.
"He looked like he'd done it before," Desmond said. "He looked like he had a brother who is really good at pitching."
"I thought he was great," fellow 22-year-old Bryce Harper said when asked about the start by Ross.
"Being able to go in there and pump some strikes in there and have a good first five innings, I mean, a couple of hops and a double play ball could have got him out of there of course, but I thought he threw well. It's very exciting to see a guy like that, 95-96 [mph] and just turning 22, he's going to be good for us and I'm definitely excited."
"His slider is really good," Harper continued. "His changeup was dirty. If he comes like that and throws like that every single day he's going to be very tough to face, especially the older he gets, the more reps he gets out there and the more comfortable he's going to get. It's a lot of fun to watch, if he's anything like his older brother it's going to be pretty electric, pretty lights out. So I think as an organization we're excited, as a team we're excited and hopefully he can make another start up here."
Ross was excited about the outing, though he noted that it was a little different in some ways than what he was used to, telling reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Chase Hughes that pitching in front of 38,000+ fans was new.
"'A lot of eyes. A lot of eyes in the stands. Nothing compares to this, Double-A or whatever level you’re at. It kind of gave me a little extra adrenaline and then the first-pitch strike really helped me out."
That first pitch was a 95 mph heater that home plate ump Joe West called a strike.
Ross dialed up another one to get Fowler swinging for his first major league K. The ball went around at the horn and came back to the righty on the hill.
He had to be told to throw the ball into the Nationals' dugout so it could be saved for him.