Dusty Baker talked about Washington Nationals’ starter Joe Ross as a work in progress before the 24-year-old right-hander took the mound against the Chicago Cubs in the finale of the four-game set with the defending World Series champions Thursday afternoon in the nation’s capital.
Ross was coming off another solid start before he faced the Cubs, having earned the win in an 18-3 victory over the Cincinnati Red, which saw the sinker-baller hold Reds’ hitters to one run on six hits in seven innings.
“Joe threw a good game,” Baker said after the win over the Reds.
“He threw some outstanding changeups and he threw a good game, because a lot of times, I’ll go to the plate to make pitching changes or whatever and I’ll ask the umpire, ‘Hey, how’s he throwing?’ and he said, ‘He’s throwing good, he’s throwing very well.’ So that’s a good sign for him and us.”
Against the Reds, Ross threw 50 sinkers, 36 for strikes (72%), generated 26 swings and four swinging strikes, mixed in six four-seam fastballs according to Brooksbaseball.net, threw 31 sliders, 21 for strikes (67.7%), and tossed 16 changeups, 12 for strikes (75%), three of them put in play, none for hits, and nine of them for strikes not put in play.
The changeup has been a topic of discussion with Ross for some time now, as the young starter attempts to add a third pitch to his sinker/slider combo.
Before Thursday’s start, Baker discussed what Ross is doing as he continues to develop, and the importance of adding the changeup to his repertoire.
“There are a lot of guys that develop pitches at the big league level,” Baker said.
“A lot of them have it already, it’s just that they don’t feel comfortable and confident to throw it in the game. You’d be surprised how many guys already have a third or fourth pitch. But you have to have confidence to throw it in a game, [that you’re] not going to throw it away or you’re not going to get it knocked out of the ballpark.”
“You’ve got to develop confidence in it,” Baker continued, “and Joe has already won at the big leagues. It’s different if he hasn’t had some success in the big leagues.
“We’re trying to get Joe to a point of having more. I’ve even had Joe and some other guys talk to pitchers that played for me on the other teams to try to help them with their changeup or their third pitch, because that third pitch is invaluable, and then once he gets confidence in that third pitch, then I talk to him about changing finger pressure to make it go one way or the other, but he’s not ready for that yet.
“The hardest part about coaching is that you want to throw your 30 or 40 years of knowledge into a guy that’s not ready to hear it yet.”
Ross struck out the first two batters he faced Thursday afternoon, but Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras connected for back-to-back, two-out hits and the Cubs took a 1-0 lead early in the series finale.
Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-out RBI double to tie it up in the bottom of the first, and Ross came back out with an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 second, and a 13-pitch third, giving him six straight outs, and an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth made it nine in a row set down.
The streak of retired Cubs’ batters ended with a leadoff walk to Addison Russell in the top of the fifth, and Ross bounced a changeup Jeimer Candelario, putting a runner in scoring position for the first time since the first, but Russell was stranded there three outs later, and Ross was up to 66 pitches after five.
He worked around back-to-back, one-out singles in a scoreless, 12-pitch sixth, that left him at 78 pitches, but his 80th pitch of the night ended up in the center field stands, when Jeimer Candelario took him deep for a solo shot that put the Cubs up, 2-1.
A two-out walk to Mark Zagunis ended Ross’s outing after 92 pitches.
Joe Ross’s Line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 92 P, 62 S, 7/2 GO/FO.
Anthony Rendon’s two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh put the Nationals back on top, 3-2, and they added a run on a Brian Goodwin single, 4-2.
The Nationals’ pen faltered again, however, in what ended up a 5-4 loss to the Cubs.
“Joe pitched a heck of a game,” Baker said after the loss, noting that the starter and the offense did their job, but the bullpen faltered.
“Joe threw a great game,” Blake Treinen agreed, though he was the one who ended up with the blown save and loss. “The offense did everything they could to get us out of here with a win and I came in and didn’t do my job.”
Ross impressed again, in what’s been an up-and-down season thus far.
He had a sharp slider, which he threw 35 times, 24 of them for strikes (68.%), and got 19 swings and 11 misses with it.
He generated just one swinging strike with his sinker, however, and he threw eight changeups, five for strikes not put in play, and he generated five swings and two swinging strikes with the offspeed pitch.
Ross remains a work in progress, but there is a lot of Baker’s 30-40 years of knowledge that the manager is waiting to drop on him when he’s ready for it.