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Will Nationals’ starter Joe Ross be able stay healthy in 2017?

Joe Ross, 23, missed significant time with a shoulder issue last season, but he’s determined to stay healthy and get back at it in 2017.

Division Series - Washington Nationals v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

About a month into his time on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said the time Joe Ross missed might end up being a blessing in disguise.

“We were going to have to limit Joe’s innings somewhere in the middle of the season anyway,” Rizzo explained in an early August MLB Network Radio interview, “so putting him on the DL and kind of spoon-feeding him through this month I think will allow him to pitch for us and perform for us throughout the rest of the season without any kind of limits or parameters put on him.”

Shortly after those comments, however, Ross was taken off his rehab assignment when his shoulder issues persisted.

“We’re trying to figure out what to do,” Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker told reporters, “because sometimes he’s still a little sore, so we’ve just got to figure out exactly what to do. I hate ‘I don’t know,’ but I don’t know.”

Ross missed two-plus months on the DL, but returned to make three late-season starts as the Nationals tried to build him up before the postseason.

He started in Game 4 of the Nationals’ NLDS matchup with the LA Dodgers, but gave up three hits, two walks and four earned runs in 2 23 innings pitched in a 6-5 loss on the road in Los Angeles.

“Physically, I felt really good,” Ross told reporters last weekend when his first career postseason start came up at Nationals’ Winterfest.

“I think just missing so much time, I wouldn’t say timing, just I didn’t have — you know 60 days of being on the bench just kind of takes away a little bit of edge once you get back out on the mound, because I just expected myself to pitch just like it was April 5, April 6th. I think it’s a big expectation after missing so much time with such short time before the playoffs, that’s kind of the pressure I was putting on myself.”

Ross, 23, said he’s healthy now, however, and preparing for the 2017 campaign like he has for previous seasons.

“I actually got back into lifting earlier than expected,” he said.

“I think everyone hits that two-three week period of, ‘All right, now what do I do with my life?’ So just looking forward to next year.”

Ross was asked if he was doing anything different this winter that will help him try to remain healthy throughout the entire season.

“I guess there’s no one way to do it,” Ross explained, “because you think you’ve figured it out, and then you kind of miss some more time and go back and forth, but it’s just a battle. You’ve got to stay on top of your stuff. It’s unfortunate that I missed so much time last year, especially because I felt so great early in the year, so hopefully this next year I can get back on the right path and maintain that through the whole season.”

Over his first ten starts last season, Ross posted a 2.37 ERA, 18 walks, 46 Ks and a .236/.299/.350 line against in 60 23 IP.

Over the six starts that followed, however, leading up to the DL stint, he put up a 5.45 ERA, eight walks, 33 Ks and a .302/.349/.446 line against in 34 23 innings.

Does he need to change anything in terms of his mechanics as he tries to find a way to stay healthy throughout an entire season?

“I’m sure there’s some tinkering to be done,” Ross said. “It just takes some extra —looking at video, and a little bit more, I think, pre-Spring Training work going into the year, as far as getting my arm ready, staying on top of my mechanics and things like that, I just feel like sometimes you get into a groove and you try to let it ride and get a little bit away from what I was doing beforehand that got me into the spot to feel good going into the year.”

Ross and the rest of the Nationals will be working with a new catcher this season, with Wilson Ramos in Tampa Bay and Derek Norris back in the organization that drafted him after he was acquired from San Diego this winter. Ross was asked if he got any reports on Norris from his brother, Tyson, who threw to Norris the last few seasons with the Padres.

“My brother had nothing but good things to say,” Ross said. “I’ve obviously seen him catching a lot just watching my brother’s games more than anything. He’s a great guy, and if I remember correctly, he did take me deep once earlier this year or last year, so I’m sure he’ll rub that one in on my at some point, but he seems like a great guy and definitely another key asset to the team.”

His brother is a free agent now, after the Padres non-tendered the right-hander following a 2016 campaign in which he made just one start before shoulder issues shut him down. He eventually had to undergo thoracic outlet surgery in October.

So has the younger Ross been lobbying for the Nats to sign his older brother?

“I just keep joking, telling everyone he can come over here,” Ross said, “... as long as he doesn’t take my job.”