Dusty Baker talked before Joe Ross faced the Philadelphia Phillies for the first time this season, and the first time in his career, about the 22-year-old, second-year starter having an advantage over opposing hitters until they saw him pitch a couple times.
"I think that advantage goes to the young pitcher until they know him," Baker explained.
"I mean, you can see the velocity, you can see he has a slider and a split finger, but until you actually see the movement on it and the sharpness of it, it's tough to simulate in the video room."
"I think the advantage is to the young pitcher. Now once the word gets around or once you see a guy and you see his pattern, then it depends on how he adjusts the second and third and fourth and fifth time around."
Ross faced Chicago in his MLB debut last June, but tonight's outing was just his second career start against the Cubs, and it looked early like they were having a difficult time with the Nationals' starter, and his slider, in particular.
Ross struck out five of the first ten batters he faced in three scoreless frames, but the second time through the order, the Cubs had some success.
Tommy La Stella, who doubled in his first at bat, singled up the middle of the infield the second time up. Kris Bryant, who grounded out the first time up, hit a first-pitch fastball to deep center and into the early-Spring, ivy-covered brick walls in Wrigley Field for a ground-rule double that got stuck in the vines after it glanced Michael A. Taylor's glove.
Ross fell behind Anthony Rizzo and put him on to load'em up, and Ben Zobrist, who'd lined out to third in his first at bat, hit a grounder through the right side to drive in the first two runs of the game, 2-0 Cubbies.
Cubs' starter Kyle Hendricks, in his third career start vs Washington, limited the Nationals to two hits total through six scoreless to keep the 2-0 lead in tact.
Kyle Hendricks' Line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 Ks, 87 P, 56 S, 9/2 GO/FO.
Joe Maddon went to the bullpen in the seventh, bringing lefty Clayton Richard on to face Daniel Murphy and right-hander Justin Grimm on for Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos as the Nationals went down in order.
Ross came back out for the seventh, but a leadoff single and two-out walk ended his outing after 103 pitches.
Joe Ross' Line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 Ks, 103 P, 4/3 GO/FO.
Sammy Solis came on to face Jason Heyward with two on and two out and popped him up to end the frame. Still 2-0 Cubbies.
Pedro Strop hit Danny Espinosa and walked Clint Robinson in the first two at bats of the eighth, but Michael A. Taylor K'd swinging and Anthony Rendon grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3.
Felipe Rivero had a runner (La Stella) reach on an error, and almost had him picked off with two down, but the safe call on the field was upheld after a long (4-5 minute) review and Ben Zobrist hit a 1-2 change out to the left field seats for a two-run blast that made it 4-0 Cubbies.
Chicago added another run on a fly to left by Addison Russell when Jayson Werth came up empty on a leaping attempt at the wall. 5-0 Cubs.
Werth took reliever Travis Wood deep for a two-run blast in the ninth that made it a 5-2 game. It was the 1,300th hit of Werth's career. It wasn't enough. 5-2 Cubbies final.
Nationals now 19-9
• NATS NOTES:
- With their three-game sweep of the Pirates in Pittsburgh's PNC Park, the NL Central-leading Cubs improved to 20-6 as they headed home to Chicago for the start of their four-game set with the Nationals and six more in Wrigley Field after Washington leaves town.
- The Cubs' 20-6 start through 26 games is the franchise's best since the 1907 Cubs went 22-4 in their first 26 games.
- The Nationals' 19-8 record through 27 games matched the best start in Expos/Nationals franchise history and matched the 1925 and '32 Senators for the best start through 27 games in D.C. baseball history.
- Chicago has won 8 of 9 series openers before tonight.
- Washington won two of three in Wrigley last season, but dropped three of four in D.C.
- Daniel Murphy hit safely in 23 of 26 games before tonight, with 13 multi-hit games in his first 26 games with the Nationals.
- The Cubs' 159-66 run differential (+93) before tonight was the major league's best. It was also third-highest run differential through 26 games by any major league team since 1900 behind only the 1902 Pirates (+103) and 1905 Giants (+96).
- Through 27 games, the Nationals' pitching staff, as a whole, had a combined 2.35 ERA, good for second-best in the majors, behind only the Cubs' staff's 2.32 ERA.
- Chicago hasn't lost back-to-back games yet this season, the furthest they've gotten into a season without losing two straight since since 1907.
- Opposing hitters have lasted an average of 5.12 innings per start vs the Cubs so far this season, the lowest against any major league team.
- Cubs' hitters, as a team, lead the majors in walks so far this season, with 139, 21 more than the second-place Pirates.
- In today's Cubs-themed "Fun with Arbitrary End Points" segment, the Cubs are 65-24 in their last 89 games, going back to July 29, 2015, which gives them an 8.5 game lead over any other major league team over that period.
- Kyle Hendricks was (1-0) against the Nationals last season, with a 2.25 ERA in two starts, which were his first career starts against Washington.
Nationals now 19-9