The Washington Nationals weren't concerned with the control issues that Joe Ross struggled with during his outing against the St. Louis Cardinals last week in Busch Stadium, which they wrote off to the rookie struggling to grip the ball on a humid night.
Ross, who was already deeper into a season then he'd gone before and on an as-yet undisclosed pitch/inning limit, walked six Cards' hitters and threw 68 pitches, 29 for strikes in 2 ⅔ innings of work in what ended up an 8-5 loss.
"He had problems holding [the baseball]," Matt Williams said. "Just problems feeling it, throwing it over the plate. No issues physically, just couldn't command it."
"First two innings, I guess was all right," Ross told reporters, including MASN's Chris Johnson after the game.
"The third inning was kinda sweaty, trying to wipe my hand off. Pants were kinda sweaty. And then just having a tough time finding the zone. First time I've pitched here, and it's humid like this."
Ross said he would use rosin the next time he encountered similar conditions and the Nationals were apparently satisfied with the pitcher's explanation for the struggles.
"When you see him spraying the ball, the way he was spraying his fastball especially last night, there is obviously reason to question what was going on and he had really good concise answers for it," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier.
"We don't think it's fatigue," Rizzo added. "We think that it was that he couldn't grip the baseball last night."
Ross returned to the mound this afternoon to face the Atlanta Braves in the series finale of the Nationals' four-game set in the nation's capital, but lasted just 4 ⅓ innings, giving up five hits, three walks and four runs in what ended up an 8-4 win in which he received no decision.
What Williams saw this time did concern the Nationals' manager, however, as he explained after the game.
Ross gave up a double by Nick Markakis, a walk to Freddie Freeman and an RBI single by Nick Swisher in the first, retired the side in order in the second, worked around a leadoff single in the third and gave up a walk and a two-out RBI single in the fourth.
In the fifth, a double by Jace Peterson and a walk to Freddie Freeman ended the outing for Ross, who struggled against the left-hand heavy top of the Braves' lineup.
"Today, starting in the third inning, fastball was down to 90 [mph] which is a sign of fatigue," Williams said.
"So he got through that one. Got through the fourth, but with the lefties coming up there we're not going to allow him to get through the fifth there with any trouble. So, went and got him, but the fact that the fastball came down is a sign that he's tired. So we'll see what the next one holds for him."
So was today's outing the last by Ross this season? "That's a big discussion for us," Williams said.
"We have to understand where he's at and the territory he's in and what options we have going forward. So we'll make decisions. We have a few days to make those certainly and we'll move forward on it when we can."
If it is the end, Ross has put up a 3.79 ERA, a 3.43 FIP, 20 walks (2.44 BB/9) and 68 Ks (8.31 K/9) in 73 ⅔, going (5-5) in 13 starts.
It's been an impressive run for a pitcher, acquired from the San Diego Padres this winter, considering he never pitched above Double-A before this season.
Though not everyone thought he was ready for the challenge when he was originally called up back in June, Ross rewarded the faith his GM had in him when the Nationals made the decision.
"When we started talking about bringing him up, people thought we were crazy -- some in the organization thought we were crazy," Rizzo explained in an MLB Network Radio interview last month.
"But what I saw in this guy was a poised, polished young man that pounded the bottom half of the strike zone with some sink at the end of it, 95 and with a good slider and he shows you all the skills of a really good starting major league pitcher."