Joe Ross was (1-0) in three starts with a 7.47 ERA (13 ER in 15 2⁄3 IP), a 6.15 FIP, four walks, 14 Ks and a .303/.348/.615 line against before he was sent back down to AAA Syracuse earlier this month.
Ross started the season with Washington’s top minor league affiliate since the Nats didn’t need a fifth starter over the first few weeks of the 2017 campaign.
The Nationals’ 23-year-old, sinker-balling starter struggled upon coming up, however, with opposing hitters putting up a .344 AVG against his sinker (up from .258 in 2015, but in line with the .346 AVG against the pitch last season), and a .261 AVG against his slider, (up from .135 in 2015 and .171 in ‘16).
His velocity on the sinker dropped too, though not dramatically, down from 93.3 mph on average to 92.6 and 91.6 over the last three seasons.
"Joe wasn't Joe,” Dusty Baker told reporters, as quoted by AP writer David Ginsburg, after Ross was optioned back down.
“That was it in a nutshell. His usually hard sinker wasn't sinking, and his usually sharp slider wasn't sliding."
Baker said Ross, whose 2016 campaign was interrupted by a two-and-a-half month DL stint for inflammation in his right shoulder, was healthy, but, “hadn't felt like himself since last year."
His manager also mentioned that Ross’ arm slot, “... isn't the same as when he warms up early in the game.”
In an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this week, GM Mike Rizzo elaborated on the problems with the righty’s mechanics.
“We sent our pitching guru Spin Williams down there to see where he’s at,” Rizzo said.
“Some of the stuff that we saw, looking at films [from] the last couple of years when Joe was going really, really good, we saw that his arm slot is down about four to six inches in his delivery and for sinker ball pitchers that is important — to get on top of the baseball -- to throw downhill and to sink it and we think that he’s gotten into some bad habits and his arm slot seems to creep down about four to six inches since the last time that he was pitching well for us.
“We’re working on that, we love the kid’s makeup, demeanor, his stuff is great, he’s a big, physical guy and we’re expecting big things from him and it’s kind of going down there and get a reset button and put him with Spin Williams and the pitching people that we have, they’ll come in and see him, and guys who have been with him as he’s grown through the system, and we feel good about where he’s going to be at when he comes back and I think when he comes back he’ll be effective for us.”
In two starts and 11 IP back at Triple-A, Ross has given up 13 hits (three home runs) and four walks, with opposing hitters hitting .302 against him.
When he was called up from Syracuse in April, Baker told reporters he wanted Ross to force the Nationals’ hand, and move up to in the pecking order in the Nats’ rotation.
“I hope that some time in the future that Joe, for his career and our sake, will move up eventually and not be a No. 5 starter anymore,” Baker said.
“Because the No. 5 starter is a tough spot. I mean, that’s the guy you skip in the order, invariably, if you have off days or whatever, that he’s matching up with No. 1s and No. 2s, he’s not always matching up with fours or fives.
“That’s a tough spot, but you’ve got to pitch your way out of that spot.”
Ross has to pitch his way back into the Nationals’ rotation first... and continue to work on adding a third pitch.