Through 39 innings in his first major league campaign, Washington Nationals' right-hander Joe Ross has allowed three home runs. Lucas Duda hit two of them last night in the New York Mets' 3-2 win in Citi Field, taking a 90 mph 1-1 sinker inside out to deep center in the fourth and a 93 mph first-pitch sinker outside to left-center on the first pitch of the seventh.
"He was hitting the ball hard," Ross told reporters after the game.
"Both home runs, they were okay pitches, I mean, I wouldn't say down the middle by any means, but obviously he's got a lot of power. I guess I kind of learned my lesson. Be a little more careful next time, but he had a hell of a game."
Ross struggled to keep his sinker down at times, but gave up just four hits, a walk and two earned runs in 6 ⅓ innings pitched over which he threw 92 pitches and induced 11 ground ball outs.
"He pitched well," Matt Williams said. "Couple of swings from Duda, other than that he pitched really well for us, gave us a chance. We scored a couple early, but we couldn't muster anything after that."
His composure on the mound and maturity, as a 22-year-old in the majors who started the season at Double-A before he made his debut, has been impressive as well. Ross remained unfazed again last night, in front of a crowd of 42,996 in New York.
"I don't really notice," Ross said of the crowds he's pitched in front of, "but I feel like every game it's like, 'Oh, we had a sellout today.' I guess it's a good thing I didn't notice all the fans and I guess, extra pressure, but yeah, I'm happy with how I've been doing so far, hopefully I can improve every start."
He's put up a 3.00 ERA, a 2.50 FIP, four walks (0.92 BB/9) and 40 Ks (9.23 K/9) thus far, while holding right-handed hitters to a .163/.184/.165 line and left-handed hitters to a combined .295/.344/.533 line.
"It's impressive," Ian Desmond said of the calm demeanor Ross has shown.
"He's awesome, man," Desmond continued.
"That kid's got really good stuff. We needed him to go tonight, to pitch into the [seventh] and he did a great job. I'm sure he'd like to take that one back, but he's going to be around this game for a long time, he's got some serious composure on the mound that's what impresses me the most."
The Nationals' hitters didn't offer much in the way of support for Ross last night, however, scoring two runs on Mets' starter Jacob deGrom, (who entered the game with the NL's lowest home ERA, 1.48 in Citi Field), scoring two runs in the top of the first, then nothing else off deGrom or NY's bullpen as Duda led the comeback with the two home runs and finally a go-ahead double in the eighth.
The long list of imposing pitchers (Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Jose Fernandez, etc.) the Nats have faced in the last few weeks hasn't helped them get things going offensively.
"If we could tell the other pitcher to hang some pitches that would be good," Desmond joked.
"But they're keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate, simple as that. We're playing some good baseball and we're going up against some tough pitching, but I like where we're at."
"deGrom was using his changeup a lot tonight," Desmond explained, "paired with a sinker, backdoor. Had good stuff. He competed. We got him -- had his pitch count up early, got him to 100 pitches in like five innings, I think. Went out for the sixth, maybe, with 100 pitches, these guys are going to be stingy, man."
The Nationals are also working three players back into the lineup who came back from long stints on the DL.
"I think it's a combination of quality pitchers on the other side, some guys coming back from injury that have to get some timing back," Williams said.
"We've got confidence in those guys though. [Ryan Zimmerman] swung the bat good tonight, had a couple of balls he hit right on the money in the middle of the diamond. Anthony [Rendon] and Jayson [Werth] are getting there on their timing, so a combination of all those things."
The Nationals will have to win tonight to avoid having the Mets fight their way into a tie for first in the NL East.
A win in the series finale and they've got the same 2.0 game lead they had coming out of the All-Star Break.