Dusty Baker talked before tonight’s game about what he heard about Joe Ross in the scouting reports from the recently-turned 24-year-old right-hander’s time at Triple-A Syracuse over the last few weeks.
Ross went (2-1) in the three starts with the Chiefs, giving up 21 hits, five walks and 11 earned runs in 18 innings over which he struck out 13 batters, wrapping up his return to Triple-A with a seven-inning start last week in which he gave up eight hits, but just one run.
Ross was sent down to get it together after a few rough outings in which his velocity and arm slot dropped to the point where the Nationals expressed concern. He turned things around in Syracuse, apparently.
“I just heard that his velocity was back up and he had maintained that velocity,” Baker said this afternoon.
“His arm slot was better. [Pitching Coach] Mike [Maddux] gave him some arm things to do [in Syracuse] and our fitness staff gave him some conditioning things to do even though he’s in great shape. We just wanted him to get more flexibility and be in even better shape.”
Ross returned to the rotation tonight, as opposed to the bullpen (which Mike Rizzo said was not a consideration), so Jacob Turner, Baker explained, who started in Ross’s absence, is going to move back to the bullpen.
“We felt that it would serve our team better if we put [Jacob] in the bullpen because he’s a capable starter and reliever,” Baker said, “... and so Joe has never been in the bullpen, so we thought it would serve our team better to have Joe start and to have Turner in the bullpen to give us some length.”
Ross (after starting the season with the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate until they needed a fifth starter) struggled in three starts for the Nationals before he was sent back down on May 2nd, putting up a 7.47 ERA, a 6.16 FIP, and a .303/.348/.615 line against overall in 15 2⁄3 innings pitched.
Baker’s advice for the returning right-hander was to take it one pitch at a time.
“All you can do is control one pitch at a time, that’s all you can control, you know what I mean?” Baker said.
“And if you do that effectively, I’m hoping that he never gets sent back down, but again, that’s kind of up to him.”
Ross started the night against the Seattle Mariners with five scoreless frames on 59 pitches, giving up two singles but erasing both runners with double play grounders.
Ross gave up a solo shot by Mike Zunino on a 3-1 sinker in the first at bat of the top of the sixth, but that was the only run he gave up in what ended up an eight-inning, 100-pitch start in which he allowed five hits, walking no one, striking out six, and generated 10 ground ball outs.
“That’s the guy I’ve been reading about at Triple-A,” Baker said after the Nationals’ 10-1 win, which left Ross with a ridiculous 62 runs of support in his four major league starts this season.
“He threw a lot of strikes,” Baker continued, “minimized his pitches. First time we’ve gone eight just at 100 [pitches] and his velocity stayed up most of the game, his arm slot was what he worked on and he gave us just what we needed.”
It was a big night for Ross, his manager, said.
“It was very important. He was determined. He didn’t want to come out when he did, actually, but that was enough. And that’s the guy that we know, and so hopefully he’ll use that as a springboard to continue to pitch well and do well.”
In another important development for Ross, he doubled his changeup count on the season in tonight’s start, throwing 11 total according to BrooksBaseball.net, five of them for strikes, four strikes not put in play.
Baker noticed that Ross looked more comfortable with the pitch he’d thrown 11 times total in his previous three starts.
“That third pitch is very, very important,” Baker said, “especially against left-handers.
“Joe was pitching with confidence and conviction, and those runs didn’t hurt at all. Like I said, it was a very good night at the ballpark.”