Joe Ross has not pitched in the majors for the Nationals’ since July 2nd, when he went 5 ⅓ innings against Cincinnati in Washington, D.C., giving up 10 hits and four runs, all earned, in a 9-4 loss to the Reds.
Ross, 23, was placed on the DL with inflammation in his right shoulder the next day.
He made two rehab starts recently, with right-handers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez starting in his place over the last few weeks, and struggling in their first exposure against major league hitters.
With his spot in the rotation up again this weekend, Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker was asked earlier this week if Ross was set to return to the big leagues?
“We’re hoping at worst he has one more outing,” Baker told reporters, including Washington Post writer Jorge Castillo.
“It certainly has been tough to fill that position with innings or quality. So again... it won’t be too much longer.”
Baker had said previously that they needed to get Ross up to the sort of pitch count he would throw in a major league outing.
"You don't just take him to 90 [pitches],” he said earlier this month.
“Today was 35, so the next step would probably be 50-60 maybe and then we'll see how he comes out of that one."
MiLB.com’s stats for Ross’s minor league outings have him throwing 43 pitches the first time out, on July 24th, and 67, in his second start on the 30th, giving up nine hits, one walk and three earned runs in 7 ⅔ innings.
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo talked in an MLB Network Radio interview this week about how this might all be to Ross’s and the Nationals’ benefit in the end.
“We’re trying to lengthen him out to about 90-100 pitches so we know he can take the workload when he gets back to the big leagues,” Rizzo explained.
“He’s an important part for us. He’s an experienced young starter at  years old, but he’s got big league time under his belt. He’s poised beyond his years. This is kind of a blessing in disguise.
“We were going to have to limit Joe’s innings somewhere in the middle of the season anyway, 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.
“I think when he’s back and ready to return he’ll really nail down that fifth spot in the rotation.
“We’ve got some good young kids that have filled in for him admirably. Guys with good stuff, but with very, very little experience. So we like the performance of our starters, we like the depth of our starters that we have beyond our big four guys, with Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, [Austin] Voth, [Erick] Fedde, the list goes on and on, we think our depth is really good at starting pitching now and for the future.”
Ross, Lopez, Giolito and Fedde were all mentioned in recent weeks as potential targets for other teams in the leadup to the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, but Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office ended up trading a major league reliever (Felipe Rivero) and a less-heralded prospect (Taylor Hearn) to the Pittsburgh Pirates to get the closer they were after in Mark Melancon.
While multiple reports said some prospects like Giolito, Trea Turner, Victor Robles and Ross were non-starters in any traded discussions, Rizzo said that he would have been willing to deal from the organization’s prospect depth in the right deal.
“You like for your farm system to help you perform as big league players for you or as collateral in any kind of trade that brings you big league talent,” he said.
“So that’s how we judge our minor league talent down in the farm system. They either perform for us at the big league [level] or we use them as a way to acquire players to help us at the big league level.
“We just felt that the deals that were out there — it was a serious seller’s market this year. The prices we thought were high in our estimation to make a deal. We like the team that we have. I think that’s first and foremost in our thought process. We knew we had a couple of holes to fill, we think we filled those at the trade deadline.”
Ross returning to the major league rotation will help the Nationals fill one of the holes that still exists after the acquisition of Melancon shored up the bullpen. But, as always, Rizzo said he remained open to opportunities.
“We’re never done looking for talent and ways to improve the baseball team. We’ve made deals after the deadline before that [have] helped the team in the past.
“We’ll obviously be cognizant of that and looking for ways to improve our ballclub going forward.”
As for this weekend’s rotation, with an extra day off yesterday, the Nationals just moved their starters fup a day:
Here's how our rotation shapes up this weekend vs. SFG: LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Stephen Strasburg, RHP Tanner Roark.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 4, 2016