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Joe Ross struggles again: Will he remain in the Nationals’ rotation?

After an impressive return to the majors last month, Joe Ross has struggled in back-to-back outings, including the 10-4 loss to the A’s on Saturday.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Oakland Athletics Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Ross’s first start back from Triple-A was exactly what the Washington Nationals needed and wanted from the 24-year-old right-hander, who was sent down to the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate early last month to work on his mechanics, arm slot, maintaining velocity, etc.

Ross went eight strong against the Seattle Mariners in his May 23rd return to the majors, completing eight inning on 101 pitches, giving up five hits and one run.

“That’s the guy I’ve been reading about at Triple-A,” Dusty Baker told reporters after the game.

“He threw a lot of strikes, 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.”

His second start back didn’t go as well. Ross lasted just four innings, giving up 12 hits and five runs in an 85-pitch effort.

What went wrong?

“I just think it was command of his slider,” Chris Speier (who was filling in as manager) said.

“He just left some pitches out over the middle of the plate and didn’t have the sharpness that he had the last time.”

Ross was looking for another bounce-back start Saturday afternoon in his hometown, where he took on the A’s in Oakland Coliseum.

“I think just being here and being in what I would almost consider my home baseball team stadium, it should be fun,” Ross said before the start, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

It didn’t go like Ross probably hoped it would.

A catcher’s interference call on Jose Lobaton put a runner on with one out in the A’s half of the first, and a 3-2 fastball to Jed Lowrie missed its intended spot and ended up in the right field seats for a two-run blast that put Ross and the Nats behind early, and it got worse when Ryon Healy followed up on a two-out, shift-beating single by Yonder Alonso with the second two-run blast off Ross in the first.

The two home runs were the eighth and ninth that Ross had allowed in 28 23 innings to that point this season (2.82 HR/9).

Lowrie got Ross again for a two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the second, on Ross’s 56th pitch, 6-1, but the Nationals rallied with a three-run homer by Adam Lind making it a three-run game, 6-4 in the third.

Three batters into the home-half of the third, however, (walk, double, ROE), the A’s were up 7-4 after an error by Stephen Drew on a grounder to third base allowed another run to score.

Ross finished off a 24-pitch frame at 82 pitches total, and was done for the day.

Joe Ross’s Line: 3.0 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 2 HRs, 82 P, 47 S, 1/1 GO/FO.

“It just seemed like Joe was fighting Joe,” Baker told reporters after the Nats’ 10-4 loss brought an end to a four-game win-streak.

“He wanted it so bad, and then in-between innings he was upset about the last inning.

“And then he’d go out and just look like he was fighting Joe. And the one inning that he threw the ball pretty good, I went out there and told him, “Quit fighting Joe,’ you know.

“I know he wanted to pitch well in Oakland, especially with his parents and family and homeboy and everybody here, so, hopefully next time out he won’t fight Joe as much.”

Baker was asked if it was the same mechanical issues cropping up again.

“Did I say mechanical?” he asked.

“What did I say? He was fighting Joe. When you’re fighting yourself that’s more psychological than it is physical, you know what I mean?”

“Maybe fighting myself a little bit,” Ross acknowledged.

“Just trying to be a little bit too fine. Felt like a few batters, I felt like I was nibbling a little bit around the zone and then it kind of came back to bite me when I kind of had to throw a strike and they put some good swings on some balls. But it’s on me, I didn’t really give us a pretty good chance to win. Seven runs the first three innings probably not going to do it.”

Since it’s not the first time he’s struggled like he did Saturday, Baker was asked what they can do to turn things around.

“You just got to go back to concentration, confidence, and relaxation, because a relaxed pitcher doesn’t fight himself. When you’re really — when you’re kind of uptight, then you have a tendency to fight yourself.”

In spite of his issues, Baker said they weren’t considering removing Ross from the Nats’ rotation.

“We haven’t talked about it or even thought about it,” he said. “The game just ended, you know what I mean, so we’ll just have to go back to the drawing board and see.”

Ross said he couldn’t go into each start wondering if he was fighting for his spot.

“I’m pitching to go out and win a game,” he said. “Can’t worry about things like that during a game, just hurt myself if I do that.”