The decision to replace Doug Fister in the rotation was not an easy one, but the Washington Nationals did decide to stick with rookie right-hander Joe Ross once Stephen Strasburg returned from the DL.
Going by the numbers alone, the choice was an easy one.
When the time came to make a decision, the 22-year-old Ross was (2-3) in six starts with a 3.00 ERA, a 2.50 FIP and a .218/.252/.317 line against in 39 innings over which he was worth +1.0 fWAR.
Fister, 31, who spent time on the DL with right forearm tightness earlier this season, was ( 4-7) in 15 starts, putting up a 4.60 ERA, a 4.59 FIP and a .293/.341/.471 line against in 86 innings pitched over which he was worth +0.1 fWAR.
He'd struggled to keep his sinker down in the zone all season and wasn't producing the ground balls he had to in order to be successful.
"It's never easy," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said when asked about the discussion with the veteran right-hander in which he shared the decision to move him to the bullpen.
"But he's willing to go out there and do what he can to help us win a ballgame."
"It’s not something you want to do, but I’m here to help the team win," Fister told reporters, including Washington Post writer James Wagner.
"It’s what it comes down to, bottom line. I need to do what I need to do to go out there and pitch and go out there and execute and be better on the mound."
In an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen this past Wednesday afternoon, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo went into more detail about the decision to stick with Ross in the rotation.
"We have a responsibility to win as many baseball games as we can," Rizzo explained.
"We thought at this point, with Doug struggling a little bit and Joe pitching so well that we would go with Joe and put Doug in the bullpen and see if he can iron some of his mechanical things outs in the bullpen and that was the whole reason behind it. It's no indictment on Doug's stuff.
"And it's just Joe has pitched so well that we felt that our responsibility to the other 24 players on the team would be to put our best foot forward and at this particular time, even though with Doug's track record of being so brilliant that Joe was throwing better than Doug and we felt that this was the move to make and that only helps the team and Joe is pitching well, but it also allows Doug to go to the bullpen and get himself straightened out because we may need him in the rotation later on in the season."
There has been some discussion, with even Williams mentioning it recently, about Ross being somewhat limited in terms of how many innings he'll pitch this season after he threw 121 ⅔ in 2014 and 122 ⅓ in 2013.
After his last start, he's up to 125 ⅔ between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors.
"We do have some issue with Joe and his innings this year," Williams told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s The Sports Junkies last week.
"Remember, last year he didn’t throw many innings. So there’s not concern there, but we have to be mindful of how many innings he does throw."
"It’s definitely understandable," Ross told the WaPost's Wagner.
"I’ve never thrown more than 120 or something innings in a season. Most of the starters here are close to 200 at the end of the year, or around 180. So it makes sense. I’m obviously going to want to keep throwing. But if it gets to a point where they’re going to minimize my innings or end up shutting me down, it’s probably going to be for the best. But I’ll deal with that when time comes to it."
As far as Rizzo explained it, however, it's not as big a concern as some are making it.
"Joe is a 22-year-old rookie," he said. "We're going to be careful with him, but this is kind of a different scenario than our other players that we've talked about going on pitch limits and pitch counts and that type of thing.
"Joe is not an injured player, he's not rehabbing from an injury. So we're going to see where his innings are at, see how he's throwing, see how he's feeling and we'll let the eye test really take us to if and when his season ends."
When it does end?
"Well, Doug Fister is a very good major league starting pitcher, so we've got that key for us in the bullpen, a guy that we can pull into the rotation that has been masterful as a starting pitcher and has a track record to go along with it."
Can Fister figure his issues out in bullpen sessions and one inning or more at a time in relief appearances?
There's also Tanner Roark, who's been back and forth between the bullpen and rotation all season.
For now, however, it's going to be Ross, who'll make his next start in Sunday's series finale with the San Francisco Giants.