In his three starts back at Triple-A Syracuse, Joe Ross went five innings (giving up eight hits and seven runs), six innings (giving up five hits and three runs) and seven innings (over which he gave up eight hits and just one run).
He was down there, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo explained in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s The Sports Junkies earlier this month, to work on getting more consistent in his delivery, and his arm slot in particular.
“Some of the stuff that we saw, looking at films [from] the last couple of years when Joe was going really, really good,” Rizzo said, “we saw that his arm slot is down about four to six inches in his delivery and for sinkerball 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.”
Ross, who just turned 24 on May 21st, threw 99 pitches in the seven-inning start for the Chiefs last Wednesday, striking out six and inducing seven ground ball and five fly ball outs from the 30 batters he faced.
“He had a good outing the other night as far as what we were looking for him to do,” Rizzo told reporters last week, “... sink the ball more, stay on top of it a little bit more, get his arm slot up, so we think he had a positive outing.”
Ross missed two and a half months last season, dealing with inflammation in his right shoulder, but returned to make three starts in September and one postseason start in October.
He told reporters this winter that though he was able to return to the mound, he was not able to get back into a good rhythm after all that time off.
“Physically I felt really good,” Ross said. “I think just missing so much time, I would say timing — just I didn’t have, you know sixty 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.”
Rizzo was asked last week if he thought Ross’s struggles keeping a consistent arm slot this season were a lingering effect of the shoulder injury.
“Physically he’s 100%,” Rizzo said. “He’s been 100% since last year, but psychologically, that’s what we’re trying to work on. It’s muscle memory and trying to get consistency at the release point, especially when you start getting fatigued.
“You saw in that 50-pitch area where we saw that the arm slot drifted a little bit down and that’s the hump we’re trying to get over.”
Ross will try to take the next step back in Washington after the Nationals announced on Monday afternoon that he was coming back up to face the Seattle Mariners in the series opener tonight in the nation’s capital.